Stay safe

11 September 2017

Security is the ultimate example of a function that only becomes truly conspicuous when it fails. But it is an integral part of the hospitality experience, impacting on every element of a hotel’s operations. Patrick Kingsland speaks to Craig Cunningham from Jumeirah Group and Felix Hartmann from Media One about the challenges of creating a robust safety culture, the perils of outsourcing and the benefits of empowering one’s workforce.

There are few hotel departments that are immune from safety and security concerns. From operations to finance to technology, all are potential targets for, and safeguards from, security risks. How one gets such teams thinking about security as a fundamental element of their function, and how best they can work together to minimise any such risk, is the secret to implementing a truly integrated security strategy.

But the incorporation of security features in a hotel can be a challenging business. Namely, this concerns striking the right balance between maintaining a property that is not only secure but also open and welcoming – and one in which guests don’t feel like they are under the glare of continuous policing. According to Craig Cunningham, who was group director of health, safety and environment (HSE) at Jumeirah Group until June 2017, this forms part of the “art of modern-day hospitality”. “At Jumeirah, we try to be outstanding in our delivery of luxury experiences and discreet in our assurance of total security,” he says.

Cultural differences

This represents more of a cultural strategic challenge for today’s operators. For example, how can the assimilation of security and safety departments be expected to take place across a hotel’s numerous operations?

The answer, for players such as Jumeirah, is to use a centralised HSE support network while encouraging heads of departments to take the lead in inculcating what Cunningham describes as a robust safety culture.

“The policy at Jumeirah has been to strategically position HSE support resources within the operation,” he explains. “The role of this function is to advise and provide guidance on safety management. At the same time, our heads of department are all trained, developed and empowered to manage safety within their respective businesses. This nudges responsibility from central support services into the heart of the organisation.”

These interdepartmental responsibilities can include anything from hazard identification to risk assessment, and calling in third-party auditors to ensure security standards are up to scratch. The four-star Media One Hotel in Dubai has become the first property in the region to be awarded the Premium Certificate by Safehotels, a leading security consultancy group. Safehotels is the originator of the Global Hotel Security Standard – a yardstick used to measure levels of safety afforded to business travellers.

The audit – completed over two days – was extensive and included an assessment of more than 220 checkpoints, covering everything from surveillance and alarm systems to hotel communication policies.

“Being able to guarantee certain standards, including recommendations for improvements, gives reassurance to today’s companies that search for hotels that offer and provide safe accommodation for their delegates,” says Felix Hartmann, director of operations at Media One.

Groups such as Safehotels – the international clients of which include Park Inn by Radisson, Courtyard by Marriott and Ibis – also offer a number of training services that focus on such issues as fire and evacuation procedures, first aid and crisis management.

Again, it is up to departmental heads and supervisors to seek the wares of training companies to ensure that staff get security guidance that is tailored to suit their specific requirements.

When you hire your own security team, you know who you are hiring, you know what you’re training for, you know what to expect of them.

“The person in the supervisory role is crucial in managing safety,” says Cunningham. “Department managers are required to be trained in incident management and risk assessment pertaining to their function. So we work closely with hospitality specialist training companies to provide flexible and customised interactive training tools, such as elearning, as well as social media. In this way, training can be integrated into job specifications and daily management routines.”

Appropriate investments in technology are also pivotal to a successful security strategy. While CCTV, alarm systems and identification scanning are common features in hotels, some operators are already looking into the potential technological innovations of tomorrow, including automated number-plate recognition systems.

Confidential matters

The challenge for security chiefs is how to integrate such technologies and how to retrofit existing systems. When quizzed on Jumeirah’s recent expenditure in this area, Cunningham is unsurprisingly tightlipped. “Details of our investments in technology are confidential,” he says. “All I can tell you is that we ensure the systems we have in place are state-ofthe- art and discreet, and are designed to maintain optimal security at all times.”

Much is made of how tighter security in hotels is predicated on vigilant personnel – particularly front room – that is best nurtured in house.

As Cunningham suggests, there is a need for a proactive “robust safety culture”, permeating all operations, in which staff effectively become the eyes and ears of the hotel. However, this can be compromised by outsourcing security.

It remains a contentious theme among operators, who are keen to cut labour costs and ramp up their bottom line performance but are wary of bringing in third-party forces that might not share the same notion of a brand’s corporate responsibility. Despite a number of security teams sharing close relationships with local authorities, there appears to be consensus among some operators in the region that outsourcing can be more trouble than it’s worth.

“I’m totally against outsourcing,” Hilton Worldwide MEA security director Mohamed Suliman has previously said. “What tends to happen is that some groups will send you a team, and then a few days later they’ll send you a different team; you have to train them all over again, and this keeps happening. It’s a waste of time.

“When you hire your own security team, you know who you are hiring, you know what you’re training for, you know what to expect of them, and you will have somebody who is dedicated to your operation, to your hotel, to your guests and to your team members.”

Jumeirah, likewise, is more inclined to train its security staff in house, says Cunningham, although he admits that the group does occasionally deploy outsourced staff on the perimeter of some of its properties. “Virtually all the security at Jumeirah is in-house,” he says. “We have very limited external security on the perimeter of the properties, so all client interface is with the in house security, and that’s much better in terms of consistency of quality and standards.”

While a number of properties may flaunt impressive safety records, most will not need Buffett to remind them that it only takes one incident that slips through the net to undo years of hard work. Consistency is a vital component but so too is flexibility to adapt strategies to specific sites and locations. The impact of failure to do so successfully would be fatal.

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