On 2 June, multiple delegates will convene at Dubai’s Grosvenor House for the Hotelier Middle East Security & Safety Summit. Following on from last year’s inaugural event – held at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre – it is expected to attract more than 125 heads of safety and security from across a broad patchwork of the region’s hotels.

That there should be such a forum is indicative of the weight of importance the topic of security now carries for operators in the Middle East.

It is indubitable that recent years of geopolitical instability will have played a part in the conference’s genesis. After all, hotels have not always been immune from the atrocities. Over the past decade, properties such as the Grand Hyatt Amman and the Radisson SAS in Amman, Jordan, and the Sheraton Ishtar, Baghdad, have been subjected to bombings at the hands of terrorists.

While such incidents may have been few and far between, they serve as a grave reminder to operators that the safety of guests – and staff – cannot be left to chance.

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.

Case in point

Notably, in February, Media One Hotel, a four-star hotel in Dubai, became the first property in the Middle East to be awarded with a Premium Certificate by Safehotels, a leading hotel 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 assessment of over 220 checkpoints, covering everything from surveillance and alarm systems to hotel communication policies.

"Being able to guarantee certain standards, including recommendations for improvements, adds a sense of confidence for today’s companies that search for hotels that offer and provide safe accommodation for their delegates," said Media One’s director of operations – and featured speaker-to-be at this year’s aforementioned Hotelier Middle East Security & Safety Summit – Felix Hartmann.

Groups such as Safehotels – for which the international clients include Park Inn by Radisson, Courtyard by Marriott and Nobis – also offer a number of training services, focusing on the likes of 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 staff are availed of security guidance that is tailored to their specific requirements.

"Despite a number of security teams sharing close relationships with local authorities, there appears to be a consensus among some operators in the region that outsourcing can be more trouble than it’s worth."

"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."

Capital gains with capital 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 in the Middle East – as they do in most markets – some operators are already looking into the potential technological innovations of tomorrow, including automated number-plate systems.

The challenge for security chiefs comes in how such technologies should be integrated and how existing systems may also be retrofitted. 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 we ensure that 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 alludes to, 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.

It takes all sources

However, this can be compromised by outsourcing security. It remains a contentious theme among operators, who are keen to slash unnecessary 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.

There is a danger, Markus Oberlin, CEO of Dubai-based total facilities management company Farnek, has observed, 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 – security officers in Dubai are affiliated with the Dubai Police Department of Protective Services – there appears to be a 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 said at last year’s Hotelier Middle East Safety & Security Summit. "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 just a waste of time when you’ve already trained people and then you have to do it all over again.

"When you hire your own security team, you know who you hire, you know what you’re training for, you know what to expect out 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 up 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 the guest interface is with the in-house security, and that’s much better in terms of consistency of quality and standards."

It’s sure to be an issue – among others – that will be chewed over at the upcoming Dubai summit, but it would appear that the Middle East’s hoteliers can be pleased in the knowledge that despite political volatilities in parts of the region, occupancy rates remain strong and markets that have experienced recent upheaval or violence are showing marked signs of improvement.

According to STR Global’s year-over-year results, rates leaped by 3.2% to 68.7% in March, with notable surges in Lebanon and Egypt.

This would indicate a rising sense of surety among hotel guests that they are in safe hands from check-in to check-out. For security departments, there can be no better success.