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Secure Your Hotel's Safety Measures

Failing to train and monitor your front desk’s security practices can have dangerous – and expensive – consequences.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Harriet Edleson
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Hoteliers would be wise to rethink how well they are protecting themselves and their guests from security breaches, say hotel security and travel law experts in the aftermath of the recent lawsuit filed against Starwood Hotels involving a female business traveler who alleges a man entered her hotel room and assaulted her in Helsinki, Finland.

Hotel safety and security is a partnership between the hotels and the guests. Yet, in short, if a hotel employee gives a card key to someone who is not a registered guest, without the authorization of the registered guest, the hotel has absolute liability, says Columbia, Md.,-based travel attorney Jeff Miller. “There’s no gray area,” he adds.

Essentially, hotels need to educate their staff and their guests. Front desk staff and housekeeping staff must know when to open a door for guests and when to give a card key to guests or those who claim to be guests.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association created a list of 10 safety tips for guests back in the 1990s, and hotels are reminded to post them on the inside of guest rooms to alert guests of safety procedures, notes Chad Callaghan, a safety and security consultant for AH&LA. Callaghan also worked in security for 35 years at Marriott International , serving as vice president, global safety & security – Americas during that time.

“The rules vary from company to company, and country to country, but the front desk is advised to verify the identity of the person who’s asking for a key,” says Callaghan. “The best rule is: always get permission from the guest and identification from the person. This is one area where you don’t want to bend the rules, even if it means waking up the guest to check with them before giving a key to a person who says he or she is the spouse of that guest.”

If a potential guest insists on obtaining a room key but cannot identify him or herself, the front desk staff should call security and have someone escort the “guest” up to the room. Another way to protect the registered guest who is traveling alone is to instruct that person to leave the name of anyone who can have access to the room with the front desk staff. Even then, the same rules are in place: require photo identification such as a passport or driver’s license for anyone giving out a room key, and make sure he or she is cleared to enter that room.

Other ways hotels can protect themselves and their guests include:

Cameras: “You have to have multiple cameras, digital multi-screen equipment,” says Tiburon, CA-based travel attorney Al Anolik. “It reminds the staff to think prevention. The primary concern is the safety of the guest. Having less than two cameras at the entrance is below the standard of care.”

Encouraging Vigilance: Consumers cannot believe they can just place the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the exterior doorknob, expecting that will keep out unwanted persons. They should use all three means of locking the door including the automatic lock, the dead bolt, and the metal bar or wing, says Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management. “That’s where the partnership [between guest and hotel] comes in,” adds Callaghan. “No key will override the metal bar or wing, and only an emergency master key can override a dead bolt.”

Train the housekeeping and front desk staff: Locking mechanisms today record who has entered a hotel room with a card key, whether it be the floor master or hotel master key through the magnetic strip on the individual card key. Hotel security can flip off the back panel of the locking mechanism to see who entered a particular room and at what time. Make sure the housekeeper on the floor is trained not to use the floor master key to open a room for a guest or someone who says he or she is a guest. Train the front desk staff to request a physical document such as a driver’s license or a passport and to ask at least two security questions when a registered guest or other person asks for an extra card key, says Hanson. Other guidelines include not lending the master key to the staff.

Take extra care when licensing a hotel brand: Before you lease out your brand name, determine what level of security that hotel will maintain. “They should have the same standards” as the top hotels in the brand, says Anolik. “The issue is: What kind of property is it?” Make sure the property has the same standard in a European hotel as in a U.S. hotel as a Caribbean hotel, etc.

Display cards with safety tips on the inside of the room door: If the hotel guest fails to use the dead bolt to keep the perpetrator out, this could be evidence of “contributory negligence,” on his or her part, says Anolik, who serves as an expert witness in hotel litigation cases. “It’s like not wearing a seatbelt in a car,” he adds. In other words, if a hotel has done its part by taking the necessary precautions and by letting guests know how to protect themselves, they need to uphold their end of the bargain and can be legally responsible if they don’t.

Hotel safety and security is a partnership between hotel and guest, and both are responsible for ensuring that guidelines are followed in order to protect the traveler and the property. Customer service is always important, but it’s not an excuse for accommodating would-be guests at the expense of breaching security. At the same time, guests must follow guidelines the hotel provides for them. Security is a two-way street, and everyone has to do their part.
Credit
Harriet Edleson
Author
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Harriet Edleson is author of The Little Black Book of Washington, DC: The Essential Guide to America's
Capital (Peter Pauper Press, 2007, 2010, 2012) and a contributor to the Itineraries section of The New York Times.
She was Washington Correspondent of Travel Agent magazine from 1993-1999, and creator of "Two Tickets to Paradise," a monthly travel segment on WMAL-Radio, the ABC affilate in Washington, DC. She now lives in Manhattan. Harriet333@aol.com
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