Addressing Common Gaps in Hotel Security

Addressing Common Gaps in Hotel Security

Duty of care is top of mind in the travel industry, with safety and security topping the list of priorities for travel managers and a growing number of corporations. Similarly, travelers are becoming more focused on ensuring they remain safe in our increasingly global and polarized world.

During my 43 years of security and counter-terrorism experience with Scotland Yard, I had become aware of many major hotel attacks around the world from the mid 1990s onward, most notably the attacks in 2008 in Mumbai, and in Islamabad and Jakarta in 2009. In 2015 in there was an attack on a hotel in Tunisia that claimed 38 lives and, together, just these attacks took more than 200 lives. As I studied these and other similar events, I began uncovering gaps in security—some very basic—that create vulnerabilities which, at worst, can contribute to tragedies of this nature and, at best, create enduring risks. What was evident was that we can learn from these episodes to create a safer future for hotels and travellers alike.


The Culture Gap

One of the biggest gaps in hotel security truly has been cultural. Hotels naturally tend to be focused on advertising their level of service, focusing on comfort, luxury, ambiance and more. They simply do not always see security as part of their offering. What’s more, there is often a perception that advertising security as a priority would scare travelers or make them more wary. In reality, surveys repeatedly show that travelers and travel managers are actually looking for more overt signs of security, which they find reassuring and illustrate to them that hotels are prepared in case of emergencies.

Today, more hotels are realizing that safety is paramount to travelers and have begun advertising safety and security alongside more traditional “amenities.” Additionally, hotels are seeking security accreditation, with many looking to align with the forthcoming ISO 31030, which will become the new global standard for travel risk management when it’s released later this year.


Staffing & Training Gaps

It’s important that all staff be vetted with background checks and references. However, many hotels still aren’t conducting the basic vetting needed to provide sufficient security for guests and others onsite. Even larger hotel brands and chains may not consistently vet staff, allowing independent operators with different standards to choose whether or how to vet employees.

When it comes to training, it’s crucial that hotels invest in security awareness, ensuring their staff understand typical hotel threats and how to react. This includes making staff aware of security-related scenarios (e.g., professional thieves, sexual assaults, organized crime, etc.), how to spot them and what to do if they’re concerned about something they witness. Part of this is ensuring that staff understand that if they see something, they should always say or do something if it possible, as people may be uneasy about addressing or reporting a potential threat in case they’re wrong or don’t know how to handle it themselves. This confidence to speak up or act needs to be built into a hotel’s culture and actually costs little to implement as leadership and some basic training is all that is required.

To address staff awareness and training comprehensively, hotel management should begin with a thorough risk assessment to identify what staff may encounter. One of the easiest things a hotel can do is to recognize the “power of hello.” I recently visited a large London hotel that my organization had accredited and, upon entering, was immediately greeted by a concierge who clearly had not seen me before at the property, he made positive eye contact and then approached me, saying hello and asking what brought me to the hotel that day and how could they help. This simple step is incredibly threatening to criminals and others with bad intent, who know their presence has been noted. This puts a potential intruder on the back foot, where they may have to make up a story about why they are at the property and fearing that someone has taken a good look at them and may be monitoring them. This will deter many aggressors and criminals, yet to the innocent guest or visitor this will feel like warm hospitality. Additionally, if hotel staff are worried about approaching someone for their own safety, hotels can implement a process in which they can report a potential threat without having to confront directly.


Lack of Investment

In the hotel industry, we’ve often seen a historical lack of investment in the “infrastructure” of security, from lack of cameras to inadequate doors or locks. For instance, in Tunisia, there would have been an opportunity to evacuate or “invacuate” (i.e., lock down), but there was a lack of security personnel, poor procedures and training and no effective safe spaces in place, and external doors were not effective, preventing the attacker from entering the hotel.

This investment doesn’t need to cost much money. Cameras have become much less expensive, and hotels can secure their perimeter so staff can lock people out or install an option like reinforced glass doors or other devices that make it hard to force a door open, which have a one-time cost but will last for a very long time.

Today, ensuring hotel security represents one of the biggest opportunities for companies looking to keep their travelers out of harm’s way, and more corporate travel programs are looking to partner with hotels that can prove they’re investing in the security of their guests. For hotels, it’s not just the right thing to do—it’s essential if they don’t want to risk being held liable for any harm that comes to their guests while onsite.

If you’re looking for help getting started, GSA is here to support hotels and travel management companies with consultation, assessment and security accreditation in line with the upcoming ISO 31030 Travel Risk Management Standard. Additionally, we work with corporations to help them understand their responsibilities and enable them to choose hotels that have appropriate security standards.