How Businesses Reacted to Hurricane Irma

By Eileen Roundtree (September 21, 2017)

It’s hard to believe that a week has already passed since Hurricane Irma left a path of destruction through the Florida peninsula. In the days and weeks leading up to Irma’s landfall in the United States, nearly every TV station brought us stories of local companies reacting. For some, this was a great public relations move, offering the opportunity to build goodwill and customer loyalty. For others, it was unwelcome exposure for some egregious decisions. Let’s explore the lessons learned in the aftermath.

The Good

  • When the cone of uncertainty began to show a direct path toward Florida, citizens took action. Residents in coastal cities and low-lying areas evacuated to nearby states. JetBlue stepped in to lessen the cost of evacuation with $99 nonstop flights. Though the flights went quickly, they were a great method to build brand loyalty and show compassion.
  • Trying to get in contact with family and friends after a hurricane is unpredictable at best. Cell phone carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, waived overage charges for those affected by the storm.  This decision did not go unnoticed by customers.
  • In the same vein, Comcast opened free access to more than 137,000 XFinity Wi-Fi hotspots. This decision allowed first responders and residents to communicate despite downed power lines and cell towers.
  • Orlando’s Rosen Hotels & Resorts welcomed South Florida evacuees with waived pet fees and distress rates as low as $59 per night. The company also made the cancellation process easy: they provided a peace-of-mind policy for guests who cancel their reservation or seek refunds when a named storm is in effect.

The Bad

Of course, there were some companies that missed the mark on decision-making leading up to and following Hurricane Irma.

  • We’ve all seen companies take advantage of customers needs by price gouging. As stores ran out of water, consumers turned to Amazon sellers to order their cases, where they were greeted with $25 price tags.
  • Flights out of Florida were at a premium as Hurricane Irma barreled toward the state. Many evacuees struggled to find affordable airfares. In fact, a Delta flight from Miami to Phoenix, which typically ran for $547, was being sold for $3,200!
  • Perhaps the most outrageous company decision came from Autoline, a used car dealership in Hallandale Beach, FL near Miami. The company chose to park 47 cars in a parking garage in reserved residents spots. The news spread like wildfire on social media, igniting response from residents who felt the dealership took advantage during the natural disaster. Autoline’s owner is now facing $12,000 in fines and 60 days in jail for using public property for private business.

The Lesson

Hurricane Irma affected so many in Florida and beyond. While many companies chose to show an element of humanity that helped build their reputation, others acted in their own best interest. My hope is that other companies learn from the fallout Autoline has faced — after all, companies that treat customers with care and compassion will reap the reward in the long run.

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