THE LODGING industry is currently dealing with issues such as laptop theft, acquaintance assaults, and the balance between security needs and customer satisfaction.
Current security efforts in the lodging industry in large part owe their existence to the 1976 landmark legal case Garzilli v. Howard Johnson's Motor Lodges, Inc., which involved an assault on a popular entertainer of the era. One of the first cases to hold a property owner liable for the criminal acts of a third party, it set a precedent for determining an innkeeper's legal duty to protect guests on the property. During the same period, the United States was experiencing a dramatic increase in its crime rate, and the hotel industry was expanding rapidly because of the public's increased mobility and travel. These factors led to lodging security's emergence as a separate operational unit.
Lodging security remains an important function in today's larger hotels, and its focus has broadened--evidenced by the change in moniker from security to loss prevention that has become commonplace. These loss prevention departments generally employ a diverse staff capable of dealing with the breadth of issues that face them on a regular basis. The latest issues, and how lodging security professionals are handling them, are highlighted in the following overview of trends in the industry.
ACCESS CONTROL. The hotel industry historically has thrived as a business that invited people in with few, if any, controls on access. In recent years, this open-door policy has been modified to address both a change in public attitudes and a growing legal duty to keep guests secure.
Public attitudes have changed as media attention to lapses in hotel security has increased the public's awareness of, and expectations for, a safe and secure environment. Recent customer surveys show that security has emerged as a key factor in hotel selection and satisfaction. As expectations for a safe environment have grown, guests are more accepting of a visible security presence.
Prudent loss prevention departments can take advantage of the customer's increased concern for security, using it as a selling point to gain management support for security initiatives and as a reason why nonsecurity staff should also be concerned about security. For instance, the security manager can point out to senior management that by training the entire hotel staff to report security and safety concerns, security departments can cost-effectively improve site safety, thus enhancing customers' overall perceptions of the facility. Physical security enhancements, such as the use of access controls, CCTV systems, and crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), can also he presented to senior management as measures that can contribute to the public's positive perception of the property.
Of course, positive impressions may turn negative if security is overbearing. Every establishment has to find the right balance for its environment--weighing the benefits of security against the extent to which each measure will inconvenience guests. For instance, should the rear entrance of a hotel, traditionally a problem area for safety, be secured if it means that guests will have to walk around to the front entrances?
Fortunately, technology can avert some conflicts. In the case of locked rear or side entrances, recent security technology allows hotels to accommodate both the safety and convenience issues through the use of reprogrammable exterior locks that allow guests access while keeping intruders out.
In addition, a hotel's front entrances can be secured at night if staff are able to unlock the door remotely for legitimate use of the facility by customers, providing both security and convenience. And over the past several years, more secure access control to guest rooms has been made possible with electronic locking devices, which most hotels now use.