Let’s call him Sam. He checks into a hotel online, has his room key sent to his smartphone and accesses the property without interacting with a single employee. This is undoubtedly the future of the hotel industry, but what does it mean for safety? Who is Sam really and how can his details be verified?

For Darren Carter, head of security at Edwardian Hotels London and chair at the Institute of Hotel Security Management, these are just some of the complicated questions asked of hotel security teams.

“The safety and security of our guests is our utmost priority, and we go to great lengths to implement the best security measures possible” he says.

Carter regularly carries out inspections, conducts surveys and audits, and issues questionnaires to guarantee the hotel group is meeting the security requirements of its guests. “Travelling anywhere in the world brings an element of risk as guests visit new and unknown places,” Carter admits.

One needn’t think too hard to confirm this statement. With acts of terror recently perpetrated in Sousse in Tunisia, Nice and Paris in France, or London in the UK, threats can be lurking or sudden and are almost always devastating.

Indeed, 97% of respondents in a recent study, ‘State of Play: The Impact of Geopolitical Events on International Tourism in 2017’, carried out by Travelzoo and written by Bournemouth University associate professor Yeganeh Morakabati, rated safety as their major concern when choosing a holiday destination.

Threats physical and digital

Far less extreme than terrorism, and more common, is cybercrime. As the threat grows, hotels have to equip themselves with sufficient security measures to make sure their information and data, such as addresses and card details, remain secure.

Consider how many hotels have been victims of data theft in recent years. Major operators such as Starwood, Hilton and Hyatt have been hackers’ targets. Even the US president is not immune, with his Trump Hotel Collection being hit in 2016, which resulted in the group having to pay $50,000 in compensation to affected guests.

Referring to a recent report, ‘The Hotel Hijackers’, from Spanish IT solutions company Panda Security, security labs director Luis Corrons said that sometimes hotels had malware attacking their systems for months and had no idea of its presence.

In an interview with Computer World UK, Corrons said some hotels have no “security perspective”, and underestimate the severity of the cyberthreat and its consequences.

Cybercrime is worrying indeed and seems to grow more menacing by the day, and, as Carter says, warrants “an increasing amount of attention to prevent attacks”, but it should not be prioritised above all else.

“Measures to prevent physical security incidents cannot be compromised,” Carter says, “especially in an environment where you have such a great volume of people coming and going.

We have clear security and safety protocols for all levels of employees. Our excellent security team is always poised to react quickly and appropriately to alerts when needed.

“Although a hotel is a private space, we are open to the public, and we want passers-by to step inside, and enjoy our bars and restaurants in addition to hotel guests. Therefore, we do need to monitor large crowds of people to prevent any incidents while not disturbing our guests’ experience.”

Technology is essential for security resources to balance physical and online threats. For example, 24-hour CCTV ensures that security personnel have full visibility of hotels, restaurants and bars.

“This means that we as a business can manage resources more effectively,” Carter says, who has access to 2,000 cameras across the Edwardian Hotels London properties.

Having a comprehensive CCTV system also means hotels can provide evidence to help track culprits after a criminal incident or, at the very least, it would have caught the aforementioned Sam on camera before he entered his room.

Another means of keeping guests safe is by ensuring staff members are committed to on-premise security. Employees are an essential component in the crime-fighting arsenal, and it is important they understand the protective role they play and the genuine responsibility entrusted to them. Done right, Carter says, staff can form “a huge support structure for security personnel”.

He says employees need to be given security training to ensure they are equipped to deal with specific situations, from suspected theft to vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

“We have clear security and safety protocols for all levels of employees,” he says. “Our excellent security team is always poised to react quickly and appropriately to alerts when needed.”

Access denied

At a previous Hotel Management International Dining Club event focusing on security issues, Carter stressed the importance of access-control systems, including wearable key-card technology for guests, granting access to spa facilities and personal lockers, helping control movement through the building and facilitating overnight access to the property.

This type of “discreet technology”, Carter says, gives hotel security another level of control by being able to activate and deactivate access cards instantly or restricting movement through hotel corridors and lifts to cardholders only. It also manages to enhance security services, without impacting style and aesthetics.

Another important means to ensure guests’ safety is sharing knowledge and information. As chair of the Institute of Hotel Security Management, Carter is tasked with building working relationships with local authorities to ensure that hotel businesses not only provide safe and enjoyable environments for guests and employees, but that the surrounding area is also guarded against wanton criminals.

“Joining larger collaborative organisations that tackle security issues head-on allows individual hotels and businesses to share knowledge and experience,” Carter says. “This also makes it easier for all businesses to collaborate with local authorities on the key threats.”

Members of the Institute of Hotel Security Management include heads of security for all major hotel groups; police in specialist areas of fraud, diplomatic protection and counterterrorism; UK security services; the National Crime Agency; plus other travel industry and banking associates.

“We meet regularly, and share intelligence and best practice, and monitor the development of scientific research in security systems,” he says.

Indeed, Carter has done such a good job in this role, the Metropolitan Police gave him an award in May last year for improving relations between the force and hotel sector.

A collaborative approach

An additional aspect of collaboration comes with hotel industry players setting aside their competing goals to work together. This is why associations such as the Institute of Hotel Security Management work so well, Carter says, as it provides a formal and controlled setting for businesses to share their experiences, solutions and challenges in dealing with security issues.

In cases where criminals target multiple hotels and businesses in an area, for example, information can be shared with security personnel to monitor their presence in their facility and potentially prevent an incident from taking place.

“Collaboration between businesses means greater awareness of issues and solutions that may affect them,” Carter says. “The more knowledge hotels have about security threats, the greater chance everyone has of preventing security incidents from taking place, benefitting the industry as a whole and, most importantly, making our cities even safer for visitors.”

No matter how tight security is or how prepared a hotel may be, it can never be completely immune from incidents. It is essential to have a system in place to cope with any aftermath, such as having a response team to deal with critical services affected by the most serious incidents.

“It is important for guests to feel that the hotel is in control and that ‘business as usual’ resumes as quickly as possible,” Carter says.

So worrying is the potential threat to tourists, even the UK Government has added some guidance to make hotels more safe.

“Many of the security precautions typically used to deter criminals are also effective against terrorists. So before you invest in additional security measures, review what you already have in place. You may already have a good security regime on which you can build,” reads its website.

Joining larger collaborative organisations that tackle security issues head-on allows individual hotels and businesses to share knowledge and experience.

An area to focus on, it says, is housekeeping, which not only improves the aesthetic of the property but also makes sure unwanted baggage, devices or packages are more difficult to conceal. Following on from this, the advice suggests hotel bins be kept to a minimum, the size of their openings reduced and for them to be located away from support structures.

Keeping communal areas such as lobbies, toilets and reception free from clutter and unnecessary furniture, locking storerooms and offices, and using tamper-proof seals on maintenance hatches are more ways of controlling the hotel space.

Another means of fostering an industry-wide, internationally safe travel environment, would be to implement a security standard. Referring to the aforementioned Travelzoo study, the company’s European president Richard Singer suggests a ‘kitemark’ system.

He told Travel Weekly how, when applied to hotels, restaurants and airports, travellers and travel agents could see if certain safety and security standards have been met in their destination of choice. The kitemark system would work for hotel and airport safety in the same way blue flags confirm pristine beaches. Singer said this was essential as most holiday packages are sold without sufficient information about the state of security at the destination.

Threats to hotel guests will always remain, whether it is terror, cybercrime or merely the inconvenience of having a passport or wallet stolen. It is essential that hotels implement, test and refine security systems to deal with the evolving criminal mind. Just as our antagonist Sam is making use of technology to gain easy access to his hotel room, so too do security teams need to exploit it for the safety of all their guests.