All sorts of travelers, from business to recreational demand superior customer service and expect their safety and security to be looked after when booking into a hotel, think about it, how often when booking a hotel do we take into consideration how effective the security measures are at a hotel when we book a room for a night or a hotel for a two-week holiday with our family? Sure, we may read the reviews on Booking.com about the quality of the rooms, service and the quality of the location and food, but rarely does the “normal” holiday maker or businessman look into the depth of hotel security and safety.
During this global pandemic businesses are struggling, this includes hotels. With fewer people travelling, in turn causing hotels to lay off staff due to a decrease in occupancy. I have no doubt these restrictions on global travel will pass within the next several months, however when it does, how will the global economy be impacted? will your favorite hotel still be operational? will that excellent valet and bartender still be working at the hotel? will people still travel like they once did? these are all questions we need to ask ourselves.
When the doors reopen and the global gateways open to all, the competition will be more fierce than ever, hence why it's now time for hotels to review their security and safety departments and staff training strategies.
Of course, as a security professional we often gets asked to review these measures, usually in depth, especially if it is for a HNWI or high profile guest who is preparing for a stay, this forms part of an advance of a location, I have done many assessments over the past 18 years when it comes to hotel reservations and selection, specifically on 5* luxury locations.
We unknowingly are entrusting a hotel with the responsibility of ensuring our Rolex, passport and money is safe in our bedroom, perhaps entrusting the concierge with our keys to a new BMW and our expensive luggage. I actually knew of one hotel in particular, a 5* hotel where celebrities, heads of state, HNWI requested to stay, not only for the high-quality service but most importantly to them, their safety and security, they felt safe. This was down to the Director of Security and his team at this hotel. I have represented this hotel myself in the past, and several others like it.
Warren Buffet once quoted - “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it” .
If you consider this for a minute it is imperative that all staff understand the role they play in guest safety & security whilst having to maintain superior customer service at all times, it is not an easy task. Security often gets taken for granted, because we feel it does not affect us, however it affects all of us, every day, no matter where we are, not just in a 5* hotel.
Any hotel operator, manager or CEO who overlooks a professional security team in place is sure to fail, it only takes one act of violence or a crime to ruin your name, brand and reputation, and as we all know, these days, those are some vital keys to success, and unfortunately crime is increasing everywhere, like it or not, we all have a part to play.
Consider these below points for a minute and perhaps you might think about this before you turn up for work tomorrow, my aim is to motivate people into bettering themselves, their knowledge and working environments, let’s face it, we can all do better, somehow.
"Maintaining customer service whilst considering security and safety measures at all time"
When entering a hotel, you generally are first greeted by the concierge, then the front office staff, these members of our team are constantly reminded, and correctly so, that the customer comes first, they are number one, if it were not for the customers you, me and our colleagues would be out of a job. It is vital to maintain professional and friendly interaction with the guest whilst also thinking about security measures and protocol, for example are we checking for ID when a guest requests a replacement room key? in most countries this is compulsory, but in some it is not.
If you recall the guest from past visits and the guest is a regular visitor then this would be approached differently, the same as a concierge at the entrance of the hotel, are we requesting ID before passing those Lamborghini keys over? Again, if this guest is a regular and you know them, this is approached differently.
What protocols are in place to ensure we are not handing the wrong room card or car keys over to the wrong person? even a valet ticket is not a proof of identify, what happens if a car is parked by one valet shift, that shift then changes and the said guest drops his ticket in the toilet, another guest picks up the ticket and collects the car, unknown to the new valet shift that this is a different person making an attempt to steal a car?
At all times you must consider the bigger picture, if you were to give the keys to the car or the room key to the wrong person, who would be impacted by this and to what effect it would have on you, your team, the hotel, the brand, the customer and the list goes on, think about it, we all have a responsibility.
"Screening of external contractors & staff"
Ask yourself this, how well do we know the plumber that we called to come around and fix our faulty bath or shower? How sure are we that this company operate a professional and safe practice for its clients? Would we want these contractors to gain access to our hotel facilities, back of house areas and most importantly guests and their rooms? To allow them access to our confidential documents, clients possessions and the hotels valuable stock?
It is imperative to scrutinize all external contractors prior to allowing them access to your hotel, what measures do they have in place to ensure that their company is able to guarantee that their personnel are able to carry out the work safely and efficiently without impacting the safety of the guest and security of the hotel, after all, it is them who is providing a service to us, so we have a right to question why we should elect to use that service.
Any external contractor from security, delivery drivers, flower arrangers, cleaners, decorators and gardeners must have their credentials checked thoroughly; I cannot stress how imperative this is, remember, they are providing the hotel owners and managers with a service, nobody will question why you were doing your job correctly, if you have a gut instinct or you are unsure, check credentials.
When I was protecting talent at a concert or in charge of venue security coordination I continuously tell security staff at gates, entrances and especially backstage to always check credentials of everybody, if they are who they say they are they will respect you are doing your job, if they give you problems, tell your supervisor, manager or better still, the person that gave you the request to check, I can assure you I like nothing more that explaining to a member of crew, a contractor or staff member as to why these measures are in place and who is impacted if they are not adhered to.
Credentials are worn for a reason, they are in place to help make the environment we all work in safe and secure and deter any unwelcome visitors.
"Key card access"
A few years ago, I witnessed a demonstration at a security conference where a former criminal hacker turned IT consultant was able to use several programs and tools to unlock and reprogram a hotel key card system after finding major flaws in its internal security server. Larger hotel groups now employ internal IT technicians to monitor systems around the clock and to check for breaches in their servers, however this is something to consider, no electronic or computer system is 100% safe or reliable, neither is a human however as a human being we can help minimize possible threats and risk before they eventuate.
We do not want unwanted guests in our back-office areas, staff rooms or guest rooms. If you find a suspicious individual in a back of house area or in a public area, inform both the security and hotel manager on duty immediately, ensure you give an accurate location and appearance and document this using a pen and paper, if you have one on you.
As a hotel guest or future guest if a hotel has a safe at the front desk it is wise to ask them to look after your passport and any substantial amounts of cash you may have. Often the handing over of possessions at the front desk would be on surveillance cameras, and the safe in the back-office area would also be monitored by surveillance, this ensures peace of mind.
Remember, what protocols are in place when handing over new room keys to guests?
"After hour access control"
It is very important that the guest and your team members feel safe and have a person to go to if they require assistance regarding safety and security issues, especially at night. When foot traffic decreases in public areas it is important to maintain a security presence and surveillance cameras must be monitored continuously, this includes the loading dock, entrances and exits, back of house areas, corridors, lifts, car park and perhaps entrances to special suits and rooms if appropriate, if a hotel has a presidential suit or wing it is not uncommon for them to have a range of cameras focused in these areas for added security measures.
To monitor surveillance cameras in a large hotel or venue is highly skillful and to do it correctly takes a lot of time and knowledge, this plays a massive role in round the clock security, especially at night when staff numbers are decreased and the possibility of crime is increased perhaps. It is important that any night time security posts are in regular contact with a security control room or shift leader, a check-in process is advisable to ensure all locations are secure and guards are safe. This also ensures management that staff members are doing what they are paid to do instead of sleeping on duty.
"Location specifics - crime statistics"
It is important to consider crime statistics in the area in which the hotel is located and take these figures into account. Is there an increase in car theft or people being robbed for valuables? Are there a lot of pickpockets in the area? All of these factors need to be considered as to how a hotel implements a security team and what measures the security director needs to take to ensure his team are performing efficiently to secure their guests are safe, whilst doing so always remembering to uphold high levels of customer service.
This is an example, it is 0200hrs and a couple of ladies approach you for directions to a club that is located a few blocks away, you have heard that there have been a number of complaints from other female guests that they have been subjected to some harassment down the same stretch of road, you notice that the ladies are also wearing high heels, so instead of suggesting them to walk the route, you offer them a taxi, not only are you providing the guest with excellent service but ensuring that they are safe at the same time, despite it being out of our jurisdiction we are still able to minimize the risk of the ladies being impacted by these reports of harassment down the street.
"Security that can welcome and ensure efficient and professional protection"
This is a very hard task, the more common “stereotypical” security guard is likely to assume that they are there purely to break up fights and look imposing, however these security guards are very easily replaced, they have no place in a 5* hotel or 5* establishment, if you are offering implacable levels of service and intending on exceeding guest expectations I would suggest you rethink your employment strategy.
People are travelling for pleasure and business more frequently these days, some people I know of travel from the UAE to LA every other few days, hotels are fighting for awards and to impose their mark on the market by constantly evolving, with this staff must evolve with them.
A hotel must impose an inviting and welcoming atmosphere, the whole idea about customer service is to make the guest feel special, to offer them an experience they will not find anywhere else, that means you have increased the chances of the guest returning in the future. Security must dress to suit their surroundings, they must dress and act accordingly, I cannot stress how important pride in self-appearance is in all aspects of security, I know of huge contracts that have been lost because security operatives were not shining shoes correctly or wearing ties correctly and were wearing suits three sizes too small.
A modern-day security operative in a 5* hotel must take on two roles, a host and a security operative; they must be a customer service representative, an ambassador for the hotel and brand, have some pride, not only in yourself, but your employer.
It is a skill that takes time to learn and master, how to do both without impacting too much on the other, when this is effectively done, you will not only save money but gain more clients. It is very difficult to recruit such individuals unless they have had a well-rounded and diverse background.
"Emergency Response Plan (ERP)"
It is important that directors of security, the executive management team and owners meet with the local authorities and emergency services often to establish effective line of communication and deal with requests from both parties professionally and effectively.
Emergency services are paramount to the efficient and effective running of a hotel; they can offer extensive support and training in certain areas which are valuable to hotel staff. They most importantly help form the ERP that will be in place at the hotel in case of an emergency, be it small or catastrophic. It is important to prepare for the worst-case scenario in any case to ensure the premises, its staff and guests are ready at a moment’s notice.
If a VIP is staying at your hotel you will want to be prepared, and liaising with emergency services is imperative to a successful operation, not only in order for you to plan your security requirements, but to ensure you proactively benefit and work alongside the emergency services, being professional is such an event is important, you want the VIP to return to the hotel in the future because his security detail were pleased with your professionalism as a team and the safe and secure environment you created during their visit.
Professional security operatives and staff require constant training and advice in order to remain motivated and knowledgeable. Those who are working within a 5* hotel is subjected to high demands and expectations, not only from guests but work colleagues and management.
It is important that staff receive regular, stimulating and accurate training in various aspects of operations to perform better, especially training in security and safety aspects of the operation, cross training is vital in a hotel to allow employees to gain a better understanding of different operational aspects and it is very important for team building.
In front of house areas such as the front desk and concierge areas it is important for such staff to be able to uphold safety and security protocol and maintain impeccable levels of service, who do the guests meet first? If all staff are able to have a better understanding of all aspects of the operation, such as different outlets and in this case security and safety, more hotels would see an increase in growth, reputation and income.
Ask yourself this, what part do you play in the chain?......
Thank you very much indeed for reading.
Stay safe, stay healthy.