How to discourage loitering at your hotel

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by Don Kermath

Being safe and secure rank among the top guest expectations for your hotel. Guests are shelling out good money so they can conduct business or enjoy time away from home. They don’t want to be harangued by panhandlers, accosted by muggers, solicited by drug dealers, or burgled in their hotel rooms. Downtown Baltimore La Quinta General Manager Hazelyn D’Arco claims she has difficulty keeping employees because transients make them afraid for their safety. Your property’s reputation, and yes, even your employee turnover rate, are impacted by how well you handle loitering in and around your hotel.

A May 2016 Cornell Hospitality Report titled “Hotel Performance Impact of Socially Engaging with Consumers” reconfirmed an earlier study that hotel revenue is directly associated with TripAdvisor ratings. Better ratings equal increased revenues. Receive a bad TripAdvisor review and you have an urgent, pervasive, and expensive problem. Don’t wait until you get the disparaging reviews. Act now!

What can you do to make your property safe and secure from transients?

  1. Uncover how to make your property unfriendly to loitering.
  2. Engage guests, staff, and your neighbors to discourage loitering.
  3. Get actionable information immediately to combat loitering at your property.

Make Your Property Unfriendly to Loitering

Use defensive architecture to discourage unwanted loitering.

  1. Install benches that discourage sleeping.
  2. Slope low walls, planters, and window sills.
  3. Make planters taller than 1.25 meters (4 feet).
  4. Install large, irregular-shaped rocks or objects at unintended resting locations.
  5. Use prickly vegetation like crown of thorns, cacti, and holly in planting beds.
  6. Secure the open area often found at the bottom of stairwells.

Mark Your Territory

Define your exterior borders to delineate civic and private spaces to discourage loitering. Hire security to enforce your borders, if necessary. Use low walls, material and grade changes, gateways, planters, lamp poles, and unique sidewalk and road paving treatments. Keep your property and surrounding area graffiti and litter free to communicate vigilance.

Keep Your Eyes Wide Open

If staff and guests can see something, they can say something. Remove line-of-sight barriers and install security cameras where not possible to remove barriers. This often means installing more windows and removing or shortening interior walls. Remove large shrubs that conceal activity and raise tree canopies.

“Having good, plentiful, bright exterior lighting is something we definitely look at and know the brighter an area, the greater discouragement there is for what we would call bad activity,” says Adam Novotny, Area General Manager for Crowne Plaza and Radisson Downtown Baltimore.

Engage Guests, Staff, and Neighbors

Do not accidentally encourage loitering.

  1. Discarded tobacco is attractive to transients. Provide sturdy, lockable cannister-style ashtrays in all smoking areas. Use signage to encourage compliance from smokers (e.g., Help Combat Loitering: Put Cigarette Butts in Bin). Educate them on how cleaning up their tobacco combats loitering.
  2. Trash of all kinds is attractive to transients. Secure dumpsters indoors. If this is not possible, trash container lids should be locked.
  3. Giving handouts directly to transients encourages more loitering behavior. Make donations of food, clothing, and money to food banks and homeless charities. Staff and guests should not offer food, clothing, or money directly to transients. Post lobby and in-room marketing assets educating your efforts to combat loitering and your donation efforts with homeless charities.

Get Your Neighbors Onboard with Your Efforts

You are not an island and your guests don’t just stay on property. The best efforts will include all the business and residential neighbors within your business district. Show them what you are doing and encourage them to do the same. Often, there are business and neighborhood organizations already working on the issue. Use them as a resource to educate yourself and your neighbors.

The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is making a difference. According to its 2018 Annual Report, the group employed Downtown Baltimore Guides who had 139,596 citizen interactions and a Clean Team that collected more than 350 tons of trash to discourage loitering and bad actors. At the same time, Downtown Partnership expanded its homeless outreach program and security patrols. Crime in the same area has dropped 23 percent, due in part to Downtown Partnership’s efforts. This is a model any business improvement district can follow.

Be Compassionate

Staff, especially security staff, should be given compassionate engagement protocols when dealing with transients. Most of the time, a transient’s behavior is not illegal, it’s just unwelcome to your guests.

  1. Staff should keep a safe distance, never make physical contact, and be polite when requesting a person to vacate the property. Novotny does not want his security staff to take a risk. “You’re not going to engage them, you’re not going to try to physically remove them, and you’re not going to touch them,” he says.
  2. Allow the person to gather all their belongings, no matter what condition the items might be in.
  3. Make contact information available for local homeless and drug addiction centers. Contacting the police does not have to be your only option.
  4. If the person is noncompliant with your verbal request, you should contact the police.

What’s Next?

Precisely target your property vulnerabilities from the recommendations in this article. Reach out to local organizations and consultants who understand your particular needs. Implement the strategies that work best for your hotel. Finally, get a good night’s rest knowing your loitering problem is being addressed.

Don Kermath is the human resources, communications and connections expert that empowers hospitality leaders to transform their workforce into productive, cohesive, team players who stay for the long haul and contribute to innovation and excellence on the job. After meeting with Don and exploring how you are currently trying to improve your organization, you may discover that his highly customized programs make sense for you (and could really benefit your bottom line). Email Don at Don@DonKermath.com for your own How to Discourage Loitering Action Guide, or visit www.DonKermath.com for more information.

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