Guard Duty

28th February 2007 (Last Updated February 28th, 2007 18:30)

Hotels are increasingly seen as soft targets by terrorists, says Helen Parton. However, the industry is determined to deal with the terrorist threat in a way that is sensitive to the needs of its guests.

Guard Duty

The coordinated bomb attacks on the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn
hotels in Amman in November 2005, which killed 60 people and injured over 100,
as well as Al Qaeda terrorist Dhiren Barot’s foiled plans in 2004 to
cause similar death and destruction at several properties in London have amply
demonstrated the security risks that hotels now face. Consequently, security
has risen to the top of the agenda for many operators, particularly at the
luxury end of the market.

Pierre-Louis Renou, operations manager for the Sofitel St James Hotel in
London, a five-star property close to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square,
explains: “There is an important mix of staff – we have a team of
security officers on duty at all times – and technology. Of course, this
comprises a number of elements, including CCTV and electronic entry card
systems.”

CCTV may be nothing revolutionary in itself, but new systems, including
smaller, unobtrusive internet protocol cameras, can observe key access points
such as lift entrances and corridors and vulnerable areas such as bars. Footage
can be saved directly onto a hard drive, which eliminates the need to replace
tapes and improves image quality.

The Dorchester has invested heavily in CCTV technology, as well as an egress
locking system, enabling staff to section off parts of the building if an
incident is detected.

TECHNOLOGY HOLDS THE KEYS

Electronic access control systems built around chip plus verification via
keypad are coming onto the market and biometric technology has entered the
industry to a degree. Stuart McKee, VP of operations for the Dorchester
Collection of hotels, says:”We have introduced fingerprint access to a couple of our suites and this
technology may come in more in the future.”

The major advantage of biometrics is that it leaves no doubt as to who is
entering a hotel room, unlike standard key cards or even PIN-enabled systems.
Indeed, fingerprints and hand recognition systems are considered more suitable
for hotels than voice or retina recognition due to the lower cost and relative
simplicity in which they can be implemented into an existing hotel
operation.

Technology designed for guests’ convenience, such as microchips in
mobile telephones that allow guests to book ahead and simply swipe handsets at
their bedroom doors, can also help management know who is expected to arrive
and when they do.

The cost of radio frequency identification (RFID) systems is currently
considered prohibitively high for many potential users, including hotel chains.
It is anticipated, though, that prices will fall as take-up becomes more
widespread. For hotels, RFID offers numerous benefits, ranging from billing
guests immediately when an item is removed from the minibar to limiting guest
access to specific areas of the hotel.

Dr Hilary Murphy, hotel technology expert and professor at the École
Hôtelière in Lausanne, Switzerland, says: “RFID tags are not
common in the hospitality industry yet, but they could be used to see if
someone is going into the bar a lot late at night or using the spa
facilities.”

Paul Moxness, head of security for the Rezidor Hotel Group, concurs:
“Keycard RFID is certainly coming, probably more in the high-end sector.”

BEYOND TECHNOLOGY

Rod McKenzie of McKenzie Security Consultancy, which has managed the
security of hotels such as the Savoy and Gleneagles, sounds a note of caution
though: “With technology, it’s a case of when do you stop? The main thing to bear in
mind is regular staff training. Complacency is thebiggest problem.” Moxness
adds: “We are trying to build an attitude of vigilance, training staff to be aware
if something isn’t right and to address that problem. It also depends a
lot on the location, and we do have assistance in each country where we have a
presence. Cooperating with hotel associations and local police authorities
helps managers know what is going on.”

In the UK, for instance, the Home Office and MI5 issue guidance on how to
assess the risk of terrorist attack and how to protect people and property in
the event of an act of terrorism. The regional police counter terrorism
security adviser can also help with risk assessment.

“We try to make security as unobtrusive as possible.”

Cultural attitudes can vary between countries. McKee says: “In Paris,
compared with London, you can be a lot more overt with your security.” And
hotel consultant Melvin Gold found that guests in Turkey were far more accepting of tightened
security following the attacks on Antalya and Marmaris last summer. “Guests
don’t mind as much if they understand why it is happening,” he says. “For
example, in the Middle East people are more aware of the risks, which makes a big
difference.”

BALANCING SAFETY AND FREEDOM

However, recreating the security associated with entry to government
buildings or airports, with metal detectors, sniffer dogs and armed personnel,
is not something most hotels are keen on, as McKenzie explains: “It is very
difficult to restrict people coming in and out of a hotel because you want to have that ‘open
door’ approach.”

McKee adds: “Discretion is our key principle. We try to make security as
unobtrusive as possible. After 9/11 we did raise our security profile by
deploying personnel with metal detectors, but after a while we phased that
out.”

Although hotels have had disaster recovery plans in place for many years, it
is fair to say they have paid more attention to them in the wake of events such
as the London bombings in July 2005. McKee says: “Now, every department is
involved in security, and it is exercised more rigorously.”

Technology clearly has a role to play, and future developments, such as
biometrics and more advanced CCTV, will bring benefits. But at the same time,
it is vital to consider guests’ civil liberties and data protection
legislation. It is equally clear that, to retain their appeal, hotels need to
safeguard the comfort and convenience that make them desirable places to
stay.