Self-made billionaire Warren Buffet once observed that "it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently." Hotels present themselves as safe havens from the outside world, cocooned from the stresses and sounds beyond their walls. However, making this a reality takes more than declaring it so, and failure might prove terminal.

Should external factors infringe on a guest’s stay, you can be sure that will be the last time said guest crosses the threshold. Hoteliers hardly want to make a marketing tool out of their safety and security function – such measures are best when neither seen nor heard – but success is only truly achievable when one ensures buy-in from a number of internal functions.

In fact, there are few 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.

Discreet surveillance

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 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, group director of health, safety and environment (HSE) at Jumeirah Group, 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.

This represents more of a cultural strategic challenge than anything else for today’s operators. How, for example, can the assimilation of one’s security and safety department be expected to take place across a hotel’s numerous and varied operations?

The answer, for players such as Jumeirah, is to use a mix of a centralised HSE support network, while also 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.

"At Jumeirah, we try to be outstanding in our delivery of luxury experiences and discreet in our assurance of total security." 

Notably, in February, four-star Media One Hotel in Dubai became the first property in the Middle East to be awarded the Premium Certificate by Safehotels, a leading security consultancy group and 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 Media One’s director of operations Felix Hartmann.

Groups such as Safehotels – whose international clients include the likes of Park Inn by Radisson, Courtyard by Marriott and Nobis – 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 their specific requirements.

"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 e-learning, as well as social media. In this way, training can be integrated into job specifications and daily management routines."

Vital investment

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

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 tight lipped. "Details of our investments in technology are confidential," he answers. "All I can tell you is that we ensure the systems we have in place are state-of-the-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.

The obstacles of outsourcing

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.

Markus Oberlin, CEO of total facilities management company Farnek, has observed that there is a danger for hotels to "simply issue a tender and offer the contract to the company that offers the lowest price".

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 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.

"Our heads of department are all trained, developed and empowered to manage safety within their respective businesses." 

"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 certainly a vital component, but so too is requisite flexibility to adapt strategies to specific sites and locations. The impact of failure to do so successfully would be fatal.

Case study: At IHG, we believe safety is key

Providing and supporting a safe and secure environment for our guests, employees and those working at, or otherwise visiting, our hotels is paramount. Therefore IHG applies high standards of health and safety across the group.

"We have developed a safe hotel/manage risk framework, which enables a consistent approach to managing safety and security risk in IHG hotels." 

We ensure the protection and well-being of those working for IHG through suitable work-based strategies, minimising the risk of injury from work activity, ensuring that sufficient information and systems are in place to address health and safety concerns, and involving employees in the continuous improvement, reporting and review of health and safety matters. We have established a set of policies, procedures and measures, and require all to comply with relevant legislation.

Recognising the importance of operating safe hotels, our commitment to safety, security and crisis management in hotels is a fundamental part of being a responsible business. We therefore require hotels to comply with a set of global brand safety standards. We also support hotel owners, general managers and hotel employees to manage risk effectively by giving them a systematic approach and framework to follow, and providing them with user-friendly tools and training.

Where appropriate, IHG’s risk-management training is accredited by relevant recognised bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. We have developed a safe hotel/manage risk framework, which enables a consistent approach to managing safety and security risk in IHG hotels. It comprises two mechanical cogs meshed together, showing different types of safety and security risks in the Safe Hotel cog meshed against the actions described in the Manage Risk cog.

This framework is actively promoted by IHG’s risk managers around the world, who work with hotels and their management teams to keep IHG hotels safe and secure. Hotels are assessed by various methods, including self-assessment, guest satisfaction surveys, design and engineering plans, incidents, intelligence gathering, quality audits and risk management reviews. Hotel management teams discuss issues at monthly safety meetings and develop action plans. Risks are prioritised, responsibilities assigned and improvement actions identified, progressed and monitored. Action plans are reviewed as necessary by appropriate people to escalate and drive action or develop common solutions.