Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach communications manager Katie Harvey reveals how effective public relations can protect your property during the pressures of pre-opening

Anyone who has survived a hotel opening could give Bear Grills a run for his money. True, neither wild bears nor barren wasteland lay on the horizon; instead it is an unsteady world of sliding deadlines, organised chaos and strained politics.

Get ready to exchange your high heels for hard hats, as we delve into the world of a hotel opening. It’s not just explorers who need a survival pack; hoteliers need to be as prepared for an opening as they would an expedition. So, in five simple steps, below is the PR guide’s to surviving a pre-opening.

Be Prepared

Moving from an operating hotel into a pre-opening team can lull one into a false sense of calm, but do not be fooled as there is a storm ahead. Being part of a skeleton team means there is less activity buzzing around; a stark contrast to the bustling nature of hotel operations. Use this ‘down’ time wisely to plan and prep activities and strategies. Analyse your budgets with scrutiny, because other people will.

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Understand the difference between pre-opening and operating expenses, have a justification for each expenditure, and factor in agency and production management fees from the beginning. Identify key messages, target audiences and communication platforms. Know your product and your team. These may all seem like basic pieces of advice, but when you suddenly move from nought to sixty, these ‘basics’ will make the ride ahead an adventure rather than a nightmare.

Navigation

The key objective is to open the hotel, and to do so successfully. The trail can seem to be a winding one with many forks in the road, so use a critical path as your compass to guide you to the finish line. The critical path, basically a task list, not only allows you to have a clear snap shot of your progress, but also keeps your team members involved. Do not forget that a hotel opening is not a solo effort and will fail without team work. The plans laid in the preparation stage will be your maps, from marketing budgets to photography story boards.

Shelter

During an opening the hotel becomes a living creation, transforming on a daily basis. Barren sand patches become lush green gardens, and concrete slabs chic counter tops. This is a truly exciting element of the process but also one that calls for flexibility on your part.

Permanent offices and fixed abodes will become a distant memory. Ensure that where possible you work from soft copy, use multiple (large) hard drives and have your office on your person. Learn to improvise because your timelines will not always match the contractors. Recreating a dining experience on a construction site is not unheard of at these times.

Communication

As a PR professional, communication is vital. The tricky thing about leading communications during a hotel opening is managing multiple stake holders’ expectations and knowing when to release what. As is common in the Middle East, opening dates can be like moving goal posts — even the likes of Ronaldo would struggle. The trick is to keep people informed, but not too informed.

If you discuss the product in the public arena only to have it delayed, the news becomes old second time around. If you keep everything bottled up and only release at the final hour it may not fit into publication layouts. Have regular dialogue with the media, whetting the appetite at appropriate intervals with feature stories already pitched and waiting for the green button.

First aid and health

As any hardened survivor will tell you, expect wounds along the way. Your approach, tools, resources and tactics will inevitably change as you weather the elements of an opening. However, as with most things in life, these adverse conditions turn out to be moments of inspiration. If you follow the survival steps, repairing minor knocks will be child’s play.

When you’ve made it to the other side, and once again slip on your heels to rejoin the world of operating hotels, the sense of achievement is unparalleled. There is nothing quite like opening a hotel, and those that do wear the badge with honour. If given the opportunity, jump at it, take heed of the survivor tips and enjoy every minute of it, because it will be over in a whirlwind