By July 13, when six cases of Legionnaire’s disease at Aria hit the news, the hotel had already moved swiftly to eradicate the bacteria, inform guests and deal with the potential public relations repercussions. The response makes for an interesting case study of crisis management on the Strip.
After receiving notification from the Southern Nevada Health District that three rooms had elevated levels of the aquatic Legionella bacteria, the hotel immediately began the remediation process, which included superheating the hot water supply, treating it with chlorine and flushing it. Aria’s engineers, working with health district supervisors, completed the process well before the “outbreak” story swept the nation. Subsequent tests have shown no further problems.
Next came the job of educating those who had stayed at Aria from June 21 to July 4, and thus might have been exposed.
“If we’ve learned anything at all in the last five years with the rise of social media, it’s that any attempt to suppress or hide information will inevitably fail,” says MGM Resorts International senior vice president of public relations Alan Feldman. “Being honest is best.”
The company launched a multi-channel effort to get news to recent guests, sending letters to those possibly affected, setting up a Web page (AriaLasVegas.com/Facts) with information on Legionella, a series of Tweets and Facebook updates and a toll-free call center. By July 15, the hotline had already gotten more than a thousand calls.
“With all of the remediation, all of the focus, this has got to be the cleanest building in the country,” Feldman says. “Does that mean 100 percent of people will accept that everything’s fine? Of course not. But I’ve yet to find any better alternative to handling it as we did.”