Amid growing fears of terrorist activity in the world’s major cities, hoteliers are aware that they need to do more to reassure guests of their safety – but it’s hard to know where to begin. Hotels in major destinations with notable clientele undoubtedly present a tempting target, but managers face a lack of direction on how to implement security measures, or how to balance them with customer satisfaction.

Leading industry figures searched for an answer at a dinner at the Hyatt Paris Vendôme in November, hosted by the Hotel Management International Dining Club in partnership with Hikvision, a leading supplier of video surveillance technology. Frédéric Puget, security director at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, gave the keynote speech, while delegates included managers and security directors from some of international hospitality’s leading operators, including Hyatt, Accor, Marriott International and InterContinental.

The wake-up call of the Paris attacks quickly emerged as a major theme for the evening, alongside the challenges of balancing customer service with security and the need for hoteliers to work together to lobby governmental institutions for guidance.

Puget laid out the hard facts: “If we are unable to ensure safety, the first thing that is going to happen after an incident is customer desertion.” He outlined the need for security directors to be proactive and communicate with management to ensure that every member of staff was prepared to manage a crisis.

He noted that in many hotels, security policies had been created but not always implemented, nor disseminated and understood. “Everyone has a mission to fulfil,” said Puget. “It’s not only the security director’s responsibility; everyone is a player.”

Making it work

Puget outlined four core principles of a functional security system: improved physical security measures, robust intelligence, high security awareness and strong performance capabilities.

However, he added, “Being customer-oriented is the central point. We have a duty of care, since our clients’ safety is our priority. We can implement all possible security measures, but if it interferes with the message we want to send, we must find the right balance.”

He underlined the real cost of poor crisis management, citing the aftermath of the 2012 Costa Concordia disaster,
as well as the armed robbery of Kim Kardashian in October 2016, in her rooms at Paris’s exclusive Hôtel de Pourtalès.

“Something we often talk about in the hospitality industry is that security costs money and doesn’t bring money into
the house,” Puget said. “But when you welcome a delegation of VIPs and provide them with security agents, the most likely outcome is they are very satisfied and welcome the prospect of returning to your property. It’s all about business.”

Something we often talk about in the hospitality industry is that security costs money and doesn’t bring money into the house.

A delegate confirmed: “Last week we had a customer who was a friend of Kim Kardashian and using the same kind of hotels. They said they will never stay there again.”

Yet improving security while maintaining customer satisfaction is a difficult feat, as Puget illustrated with an anecdote: “For a while, we were performing only visual checks, until one day a South Korean customer had enough and became very upset – and rightly so. He told us, ‘I’m a customer. I went in and out four times. Each time, your security agent asks me to open my bag. But look at this man checking in with a suitcase. You’re not asking him to open it.’ It got to the point that the customer asked me, ‘Are you racist?’ We immediately stopped the visual checks because it was counterproductive and impacted the customers.”

The roundtable considered whether guests were likely to be more comfortable with highly visible security measures than hoteliers had assumed.

“The very same customers, when in Cairo, are welcomed by a security service and an armed guard wherever they stay, and they are not shocked,” asserted an attendee. “When they arrive in Paris, they don’t understand why there are rigorous checks in some places but not others.”

Puget added: “Our hotels are the most beautiful targets as they tick all the boxes for terrorists. We have a large range of customers on all the continents; our hotels are iconic places located in iconic areas.”

Puget ended his presentation by emphasising that hotel directors should be on the lookout for untrustworthy private security providers in the wake of an attack, and that the GM is the key leader in every security policy to be implemented on the ground and must always offer trustworthy support to his head of security.

“The benefit goes to external providers. Those people ride the wave. They get paid royalties to display a certificate (in a hotel) based on a quick tour by an inexperienced person. It’s monkey business,” he concluded.

Issues with surveillance

Hikvision’s Jean-Marie de Troy emphasised that the evening’s sponsor was there to learn about its customers, enabling it to tailor its surveillance technology to client’s needs.

“Hikvision offers an assessment of your existing security system and software before offering anything else, let alone a solution that would not fit your property,” he said.

Several delegates raised questions about the legality in France of advances in CCTV facial-recognition technology. “It is legal to find an object, but not to retain a database with names,” de Troy responded.

“In France we’re very concerned with the CNIL (Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés) regulations,” an attendee objected.

“I don’t find it shocking if there is a control on CCTV. It’s quite healthy,” was de Troy’s answer. “It allows you to structure and regulate the practices in an industry.”

The discussion turned to the challenges of implementing security equipment effectively. “When you set up a security checkpoint, either the settings are good and it beeps every other minute, or they are not, and everybody comes and goes as if there was no security at all,” a delegate protested.

“There is no point,” another agreed. “A scanner, yes; a security checkpoint, no.”

Another hotelier countered: “Who is going to use it? Do you know how long a scanner holds a charge? 40 minutes.”

As the discussion progressed, the delegates aired concerns about the lack of organisation within the Paris hotel market after each successive incident. “Systematically after each crisis, we all ask ourselves the same questions and compare ourselves with each other,” said a hotelier. “We don’t want to be singled out or do less than others. I find it too bad that the people who lead our establishments don’t gather around a table and talk about it.”

Another attendee saw the problem differently. “After the terror attacks, security directors came to exchange views on such issues many times,” they replied.

A representative of a leading brand pointed out that the industry as a whole could not be forced into standardisation. “There are groups who demand their hotels obtain specific equipment. But you can’t ask all groups in France or elsewhere to do the same,” the delegate said.

“We have done nothing, because we estimated the impact on the customers and the improvements were not worth it,” admitted another hotelier from a leading international brand.

Common interests

The need for unity took centre stage as the roundtable went on to discuss the lack of guidance from the French Government. 

“It feels like the institutions in France have resigned regarding this kind of threat,” a security leader declared. “And I believe this is because the hospitality industry is disregarded and not taken seriously. Considering the impact we have on the economy, we should be better heard.”

“There is a real job of lobbying to be done by our general managers, so our industry can be heard,” another delegate agreed.

“The only way to make it happen is if the market reacts in a unified way,” replied Puget.

Still, no one could agree on how to standardise security procedures, and the conversation returned to the lack of governmental leadership.

It’s about bringing pressure to bear in order to solve problems. We have common interests even though we come from different backgrounds, groups or chains.

“Taking the long view is hard work,” said a restaurant manager. “There’s no guidance for us either, and I believe it will never come.”

Puget countered: “I am a member of the Vendôme Security Council Committee. It’s a group that represents all the big luxury companies in Place Vendôme, and we have regular meetings with the Prefect of Police. This is the highest authority in charge in Paris, and they are the eyes and ears of the Minister of Interior. We share our issues with them, suggest solutions, and ask how they can help. That is to say, when we hospitality industry people knocked on the right door, it was a win. It doesn’t make sense to approach the lower authorities because they are unable to help.”

“Your committee doesn’t include many people in our field. How can we trust it?” a delegate asked.

“I’m just saying that through it or other organisations, irrespective of who is on said committee, you have the opportunity to reach out to the only person who is a decision maker,” replied Puget.

He brought the conversation to a close with a call for an alliance throughout the hospitality industry.

“It’s about bringing pressure to bear in order to solve problems,” he said. “We have common interests even though we come from different backgrounds, groups or chains. If we work together, everyone will get the benefits of such collaboration.”