“Sochi Hotel Syndrome” – It Can Happen In The U.S., Too

The Olympics are well underway now and hopefully the planet’s occasional celebration of the best of humanity’s physical skill and endurance will continue unimpeded despite the constant talk of possible terrorism and the “warmer than winter Olympics” weather.

But oh, those hotels.

Second only to being sick while you’re on the road is the nightmare of arriving – often at a destination that you’re wholly unfamiliar with – after a long, sometimes nerve-wracking trip to discover that your hotel is less than ideal.  Not even close to ideal.  Not just a little bad but terrible.  We’ve all had that experience and we all remember it with crystal clarity for a reason.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget the images of those places in Madrid, Chicago and . . . brrrrrr . . . Memphis.  Oh, and Geneva!  But that was more about the attitude of the staff than the actual place itself.

bad-hotelSo while few of us will ever be lucky enough to attend the Olympics, we could all empathize a bit with the athletes, tourists and journalists as they arrived in faraway Sochi to find their hotels unfinished, the water lines unattached, the “very dangerous” water in at least one location and the interesting bathroom situations.  Normally a city of only around 350,000 residents and founded in 1838, Sochi is not only a small town but also fairly new by Russian standards.  When it landed the winter Olympics in 2007, there was quite a lot to get done by last week.  Unfortunately a lot of it didn’t get done.

Indeed, most of the problems currently being experienced in those hotels are because the properties are so very new and, in many cases, not yet

inhabitable.  When we experience similar problems at hotels in the U.S., they’re usually but not always the result of the properties being on the older side.  But mismanagement, everyday wear-and-tear that no one addresses, a nonexistent renovation schedule, a “frugal” business model and many other things can contribute to the eventual breakdown of a property.  And that can lead to the kind of surprises experienced last week in Sochi, the kind of surprises we least like.

So how to minimize the potential of such an experience?  Despite the convenience of the internet, there are still huge benefits to utilizing an old-fashioned travel agent when scheduling a vacation.  An agent with personal experience in the region you’re traveling to will know whether those online endorsements are bogus or not.  After all, the agent is the expert.

Far more important is to take a little time to ask certain questions and, where appropriate, contract certain assurances at your destination hotel.  And this isn’t just for personal travel.  It translates to selecting a property or properties for deployment of your critical personnel in the event of an interruption in business.  And that’s where it really pays off to depend on experts, especially those who are specifically and personally familiar with the locations and properties in your business continuity plan.  Those are also the people you can depend on to pre-negotiate invaluable clauses – the kind with teeth – in your contracts just in case.  You never know when you may encounter problems with ongoing renovation, possible relocation, safety/security or price gouging, for example.  And God forbid the hotel opt to cancel your contract to book a more profitable group if you’ve neglected to predefine the value of liquidated damages the hotel would owe your organization in such an event.

But I’m preaching to the choir.

Sochi is a relatively remote destination with an infrastructure that probably didn’t benefit much from decades of communist rule.  And hasty construction of so many hotels probably didn’t help much either.  American companies should be thankful that their BC plans can include the hotels of their choice and that they can tap expert resources to plan for and mitigate circumstances like the ones we might be experiencing if only we were “lucky” enough to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics.


Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.

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