Security slip-ups: Steer clear of these five hotel security mistakes

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by Amy Bell

In light of recent tragedies and incidents, it’s become clear that hotels and resorts are highly vulnerable to crime and security threats. In these uncertain times, five-star hotel security is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity.

Unfortunately, many hotels are disappointing their guests when it comes to hotel safety. “As one who has spent 60 to 80 nights a year in hotels all over the world, I have had the opportunity to see a lot of positive and proactive hotel security programs,” says James H. Clark, CPP Staff Consultant with SRMC, LLC, an independent security consulting firm. “Conversely, I have also seen some not-so-good ones.”

According to Rick Amweg, MPA, another security consultant with SRMC, it’s not necessarily a matter of what hotels are doing to let their guests down – it’s what they’re not doing. “Many travelers consider a hotel their home away from home, and as such, they expect a rather personal approach to security,” he says.

Want to keep your guests and property safe and sound? Avoid these five common hotel security mistakes.

Mistake #1: An Ineffective Plan

Far too many hotels suffer from lackluster security procedures or, worse yet, no security plan at all. Amweg says it is essential for every hotel to have a solid prevention plan that is tailored for their specific location. “A corporate security plan is a great start, but the plan has to be localized to the specific site,” he explains.

William H. Nesbitt, CPP, President of Security Management Service International, wholeheartedly agrees. “Security is very much a situational discipline,” he says. “This means that hotel security programs should be driven by need, and responsive to the ambient threat environment.”

In order to establish a baseline, he says a comprehensive threat assessment is a must for every hotel. “This assessment should be conducted by a credentialed security professional who is independent (not tied to a line of security equipment and/or the provision of contract security guard). That is not to imply that security technology and security officers are not a potential part of the solution.”

Of course, it’s pointless to have a security plan if your employees do not understand or follow the procedures. “Hotel security is not the responsibility of just the management team,” Amweg says. “Every team member, every housekeeper, maintenance person, front-desk employee, and so on has a role to play in providing a secure environment. You can prevent a lot of bad things from happening when every employee has been trained to have security as part of their job.”

Which leads us to…

Mistake #2: Lack of Training

When hotel employees do not receive proper security training, threats are overlooked and mistakes are made. These oversights could lead to a serious incident and ultimately result in the injury or death of hotel guests or employees. Such a tragedy can forever tarnish a hotel’s reputation, which is why security experts say training is an essential investment for every hotel.

“The most significant action a hotel manager can take is to constantly train staff on their responsibilities for checking IDs, being cautious and deliberate when activating key cards, and being aware of suspicious behavior or unsafe conditions within the hotel, such as frequent traffic into a hotel room, propped-open remote doors, and late-night parking-lot activity,” Clark says.

He also points out that hotel bartenders and wait staff should be well-trained on safe serving practices. “They need to have a sound plan of action when dealing with an intoxicated patron,” he says. “I have observed hotel bar managers over-serve patrons based on the premise that they are overnight guests and will not be driving. Even if that is true, intoxicated patrons are a liability for any hotel and are sometimes prone to become aggressive with other patrons.”

Additionally, security training should not be treated as a “one and done” situation. For hotels, security education should be seen as an ongoing process, says Mac Segal, Vice President of Business Development and Consulting, EMEA, for international security company AS Solution.

“Security is not a wave the magic wand from today to tomorrow and it’s all in place,” Segal says. “It’s an evolving process of education and awareness. Everybody on the property should have security awareness and basic training to notice a suspicious individual or bag. The receptionist should be trained, the bellboys, and the concierge. We preach this and do this for more and more hotels.”

Of course, most hotel employees have probably heard the phrase, “If you see something, say something.” However, Segal points out that without proper training, this is a vacant mantra. “If you see what, tell who?” he poses. Unfortunately, he says, many hoteliers simply aren’t willing to invest in ongoing security training. “Security education is super important, but it’s a harder sell than you might think.”

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Mistake #3: No Visible Security on the Guest Floors

While plenty of hotels, particularly casino resorts, have many security officers onsite, Segal points out that these officers are rarely on the guest floors. “You never seem to see security on the guest floors. They’re all downstairs on the gaming floor watching the money,” he says. “Their job is to make sure no one is stealing money from the casino. But if they’re also there to protect the guests, how come you rarely bump into them in the elevators or walking around on the guest floor?”

This leaves guests vulnerable to all kinds of security threats, including theft, abduction, and assault. “Bad buys could just walk around the hallways and say it’s housekeeping and try to get into rooms,” Segal says. “Unless security has been called to a room for a specific purpose, in U.S. hotels I’ve never run into a security officer walking around the room floors during the day or night. And I work with the highest luxury brands and I’ve stayed in low-end hotels at airports.”

He says if security officers spent more time patrolling these hallways, it would give guests a greater sense of security and well-being. “I think that would go a long way to show duty of care toward your guests, if the security personnel were actually visible – not only on the casino floor or outside the front door,” he says. “Also, it’s a deterrent for anyone on the property that’s thinking about room theft or child abduction or some other criminal activity.”

Mistake #4: Over-reliance on Cameras

If you think surveillance cameras are the magic bullet to end all security threats, think again. “Hotels tend to rely, and maybe over-rely, on technology to address security issues,” Amweg says.

Segal echoes that sentiment. “No camera has ever stopped a gunman,” he says. While more and more hotels are installing cameras in the lobby, elevators, and even guest corridors (primarily outside of the U.S.), Segal says cameras should not be viewed as a replacement for security personnel. “Guests want to feel safe, and there’s an expectation of visible security. I think the public wants to see it, and I think they feel good if they can see it.”

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Mistake #5: Zero-Star Treatment from Security Officers

When it comes to protecting hotel guests and property, an effective team of security officers is crucial. However, what happens when one of these officers is forced to interact with a hotel guest? In most cases, Segal says, they fail miserably.

“Usually, the security team is contracted,” he explains. “So, they’re not as experienced as the rest of the hotel employees in guest relations.” While guests at high-end hotels receive polite, friendly, five-star service from the receptionist, concierge, bellboy, and food-service employees, they are typically not met with the same level of professionalism when they interact with a security officer.

“So, when people have to interact with security, they’re thinking, ‘What happened to the five-star service?’” Segal says. “Because very often, those officers have been trained in security by whatever external company has been contracted. They’ve got their guard license, but they haven’t been trained in guest relations and hotel operations and the guest experience. I think that’s a major downfall. I seldom see hotel chains that invest in training the security team in guest interface.”

Balancing Act

Security is a tricky issue for all businesses, and hotels are certainly not immune. Yet, considering the current climate, it’s more important than ever for hoteliers to enact a solid security program.

“Once upon a time, security used to make people nervous,” Segal says. “But that expectation has changed. Now, people want to see security.”

He goes on to say that security can feel like a balancing act. “There’s a seesaw of freedom and security,” he says. “The more security you have, the less freedom you have, and the more freedom you have, the less security you have. And the fulcrum of that seesaw is threat. The higher the perceived threat level, the more freedoms we’re willing to sacrifice in order to feel safe and secure. I don’t think most hotels are getting there yet.”

However, if hoteliers steer clear of these common mistakes and invest in plenty of training, it is possible to strike the ideal security balance.

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