On 27 November 2013, security leaders from across Europe gathered at the Melia White House Hotel in central London to attend the Hotel Management International Hospitality Security Europe conference, sponsored by event partner Salto Systems.

Managing security is a delicate balancing act for hotel managers. Guests need to know their rooms and possessions are secure, and that processes are in place to ensure any undesirables are dealt with quickly and effectively. This theme of getting the balance right was touched upon many times during the event.

After a networking session over a continental breakfast, Dr Ray F Iunius stepped up to the podium to present his keynote address outlining his philosophy on best-practice safety and security in the hospitality industry. As director of the business development and marketing at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne and a member of the executive committee, Iunius is an expert on innovation in the hospitality industry.

"When considering the safety and security of a hotel, there are political, social and environmental factors to take into account," Iunius began. "I call this the science of guestology."

He stressed that when considering any change to safety or security measures within the hotel industry, the focus must always be on the benefit to the client.

"A guest will become a brand manager," Iunius explained. "There is no better marketing tool than a guest. It’s simple: if you understand your client, you win."

Embracing technology

Iunius’s philosophy is that hotel managers must get with the times and not be afraid to embrace technology, because innovation and creativity depend more and more upon how it is used. He brought up Generation Y several times and its significance to the future of the hospitality industry.

"Wi-Fi has become as integral to a guest’s needs as food. Everything now is based on connectivity."

"My son has never known life without the internet," he said. "This is important. Wi-Fi is certainly one thing to get right, because it’s become as integral to a guest’s needs as food. Everything now is based on connectivity.

"This is the generation that has grown up with technology at their fingertips, and they have very different needs compared with previous generations. It is important that hotels can provide them with the right experience and satisfy their very modern needs."

But being a successful hotel business isn’t just about providing what the guest needs − operators have to go further.

"It’s important that we still give our guests something they can never get at home," said Iunius. "This is much harder now guests are likely to have fantastic devices in their homes."

Furthermore, Iunius drew on the connection between technology trends, and safety and security consideration. He urged delegates to consider social media as a threat to their business.

"TripAdvisor can kill you; if comments are negative, clients will not come. Any mistake in safety and security will go on TripAdvisor and you will no longer have guests."

However, going back to the integral theme of balance, Iunius also emphasised that, while much focus should be on Generation Y, previous generations with less technological expertise should not be neglected. He illustrated this point by diverting from his PowerPoint slides to a YouTube clip from the classic Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times. In it, an automatic feeding machine goes awry, and Chaplin’s character finds himself in a spot of bother when attempting to devour a corn on the cob.

"As you can see, too much technology can also be a disadvantage − and not everybody is digitally literate," Iunius explained.

Safety and security

Next, Iunius focused on employee and guest safety. For him, one of the most important aspects of a health and safety strategy is training – that it is employed early on and updated regularly.

"Sometimes this requires a back-to-basics approach to hygiene," said Iunius. "Even making sure employees know the proper way to wash their hands can make a huge difference, otherwise, pandemics can become a total catastrophe. It is vital to protect the clients."

Continuing on the hygiene theme, Iunius shared an innovation with delegates that’s made a big difference in his hotel recently: electrolysed water. This polarised salt water has become even more popular after the recent H1N1 threat led to a call for innovative ways to clean frequently touched surfaces. "It is healthier than bleach for employees and guests, and very effective," he said.

Finally, Iunius made delegates consider the security employed on their sites and whether new technology would be a help or hindrance. He praised on-trend schemes such as vehicle-tracking and highlighted the need for up-to-date security cameras. However, he cautioned that while increasingly sophisticated recognition systems are in existence − with innovations such as biometrics coming to the fore − they can actually end up being less efficient.

"If you do not completely understand the system, things can easily go wrong," he said. "Additionally, clients may reject such systems due to data protection concerns."

But, stressed Iunius, the most important thing to bear in mind when considering safety and security for your hospitality business is that the guest has a ‘proper’ experience.

"What proper means to me is that the guest feels he or she is the first person in the world to use their room," he explained. "Guests will only return to your facilities if their experience has been outstanding."

"Yes, there’s a need for new business models that create technologically advanced yet user-friendly security technology," Iunius concluded. "But do not forget that a guest’s room is not a laboratory."

Following the keynote speech, Sponsor Salto Systems contributed its insight on the latest security trends within the industry and demonstrated its vision for the application of radio-frequency identification (RFID) access control systems across some of the world’s finest hotels.

After a hearty lunch followed by a question and answer session with both speakers, delegates left the successful conference at the Melia White House with much food for thought.

An event focusing on security technology solutions is scheduled for spring 2014 in Paris. Keep an eye on www.hmi-online.com for more details.