Hotel (in)security

Emergency management as a proactive security measure has been mentioned on this site recently. Hotels need to continually evaluate and evolve new methods to combat terrorists, thieves and the unwelcome publicity that follows causing a potential loss in clientel. Terrorist attacks, dire economic news and a host of real and imagined malaises are just a few of the reasons that almost every publication discusses hotel security. The latest include the following:

The Financial Times (subscription required) takes a relatively balanced look at security needs in an article headlined "Executives seek five-star security". Focused on Mumbai, India, the article canvasses opinions from guests, operators and consultants. Among the reasoned quotes from security consultants was one who noted that a "hotel's security is only as good as the intelligence support it gets from the government and national security bodies". It is now fairly widely acknowledged that the Indian government performed abysmally in that regard.

Another interesting point raised in the FT that is relevant to hotels worldwide is that "hotel staff are as important as any security hardware a hotel provides. Security requires a real mindset from hotel staff".  Even after 9/11, many urban hotels in the US remain susceptible to bombings similar to the one that demolished the Islamabad Marriott and, a very long time ago, the Vista hotel in New York.

USA Today has an article on how the terrorist attacks on Mumbai have dented business travel with occupancy rates dipping by a third. The article quotes the Association of Corporate Travel Executives as having
surveyed 134 corporate travel managers after the Mumbai attacks. ACTE
found that "just 6% planned to curtail travel to the region, but 78%
were reviewing their hotel contracts with a greater emphasis on
security". Among some of the findings: Companies are placing the onus on hotels to prove "to corporations that their security is up to date.
Companies are asking the hotels they deal with
to coordinate better with police, fire and military authorities, train
staff in evacuation techniques, install back-up communication systems
in guest rooms, and improve surveillance".

On a similar vein, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski was mugged in the area immediately outside her unnamed (presumably) luxury hotel entrance. Her co-anchor, Joe Scarborough, demanded on his eponymously named show that the hotel be called to account for its perceived lack of security.

So what are hotels to do in an environment that they, arguably, in limited control of? Beyond emergency management, in today's terrorism driven atmosphere it behooves properties to also consider sensitizing staff to extraneous threats. Measures could include:

  • Making employees aware of world events and ongoing threats.
  • Encouraging staff to be alert and immediately report any situation that may constitute a threat or suspicious activity via the hotel's emergency response system.
  • Staff should be made to know the location of the closest police stations and hospitals.
  • Ensuring staff  take notice and report suspicious packages, devices,
    unattended briefcases, or other unusual materials. Most importantly, they should not attempt to handle or remove such objects.
  • Take
    any threatening or malicious telephone call, facsimile, or bomb threat
    seriously and set up a standard reporting format for them that provides as much detail as possible for law enforcement authorities..
  • Personnel must know emergency exits and stairwells (the Mumbai hotel staff apparently did a remarkable job of escorting many guests out of harm's way)
  • Rearrange
    exterior vehicle barriers, traffic cones, and road blocks to alter
    traffic patterns near facilities.
  • Rotate security staff schedules so as to avoid routine and repetition.
  • Limit the number of employee access points and loading docks with thoroughly documented entry/exit procedures.
  • Conduct periodic reviews of vendors and their delivery staff to minimize facility entry by unwanted personnel
  • Illegally parked vehicles in the hotel "loading zone" area should be challenged and moved expeditiously.

Ultimately, hotel security is best unseen when unneeded but highly visible and omnipresent when needed. With that underlying principle in any hotel's security program, guests are more likely to be at ease even in today's environment.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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