The hotel industry is one of the most challenging environments to work in – and never more so than today. The global terror threat and the recent attacks in Manchester and London in particular mean that the task of keeping your guests safe and secure is a serious business – and there is absolutely no room for complacency.
Hotels are, in many ways, the ultimate ‘soft target’. Designed to be open and welcoming to large numbers of people, there is usually only a shallow security perimeter to breach (unlike military targets) and the potential to inflict high numbers of casualties and gain worldwide media attention.
It is not just the obvious costs of death and injury to consider, there are also the issues of damage to premises and knock-on financial effects. It is estimated that the attacks in Paris in November 2015 cost French hoteliers around £237million in lost revenue, according to research firm MKG Group.
With the current threat level from international terrorism in the UK set at severe, – meaning that an attack is highly likely, – and four terror attacks this year already, is it just a matter of time before the hospitality industry is targeted directly? How does the sector adapt to these new conditions and how should hotel operators upgrade their security to be better prepared?
Crowded Places Guidance 2017, a document produced by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) contains specific advice for the hospitality industry and covers issues including mail handling, suicide attacks, car bombs and chemical, biological and radiological attacks.
In addition, Police Scotland have a Counter Terrorism Security Advisor who will assess the threat and give you impartial advice and site-specific guidance – as well as help to identify trade bodies to supply and install security systems.
The force take a proactive approach on the issue, running a number of courses and initiatives designed to challenge and educate members of the business, retail and commercial communities, including one, Project Argus, especially tailored towards hotel security.
Detective Sergeant Graham Milne, Counter Terrorism Security Advisor, told Hotel Scotland, “Police Scotland is involved in delivering Project Griffin and Project Argus, which are national approved courses that provide advice to businesses. The facilitation of these events is provided by trained staff without cost.
“The Project Argus Hotels product is an interactive facilitated event specifically for the management of hotels to consider how they and their team would identify and deal with a terrorist situations.
“Similarly, security and front of house staff at hotels can attend Project Griffin events, to learn more about the current Threat, suspicious behaviour, suspicious items, bomb threats, firearms or weapons attacks and other related counter terrorist information. These training/awareness events are accredited by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO).”
More information on these events and others can be found at http://www.scotland.police.uk/keep-safe/246633/246666/.
David Tracey, Operations Director for Manorview Hotels & Leisure Group, believes his organisation are much better prepared to deal with a potential threat than they once were.
He told Hotel Scotland, “We’re much more aware and vigilant about the risks, and we’ve shared the government guidance with our managers and asked them to share it with their teams. I think the main difference is that the risk of terrorism is now part of the agenda. Previously we thought about it, but now it’s part of our risk assessments.
“I wouldn’t say it was something we talk about every day, but we have it as part of our training and induction and procedures, and two years ago it wouldn’t have been. The London and Manchester attacks have ramped it up to another level. The local environmental health office sent out guidance and we passed that on to our GMs, so everybody has the same information. Everyone should know these things, rather than the message being diluted by management.”
Understanding what terrorists might do and how they might do it is crucial to assessing threat. Does the location of your premises, your activities or those of your guests make it more vulnerable to, or likely to attract, a terror attack? Do you already have a good security regime you can build on and are your staff aware of existing security measures? Do you have things like public safety response protocols and lock-down plans in place?
Danny Scholfield, Sales & Marketing Director at Expert Security UK, says communities and business are put under huge strain in the wake of an attack – and that his firm has seen a rise in inquiries from hotels.
He adds, “We’ve seen a lot of inquiries from hotels, especially in London, who have vulnerable areas at the back of the venue, where the loading bays are, and at the front, where cabs drop off and so on.
“We specialise in perimeter security and hostile vehicle mitigation – security bollards, crash-tested bollards. The ones we install will stop a 7.5 tonne truck driving at up to 50 miles an hour – and they will stop it straight away.”
But it’s not just the threat of terrorism that hotels need to keep on top of – internal crime like theft are also significant issues. In the UK, employee theft accounts for over £2 billion a year in lost revenue and a recent study by Expert Security UK found that almost one in five people have been affected by crime in the workplace. The issue was highlighted recently when armed robbers targeted the Mappin & Webb jewellery store at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Auchterarder, Perthshire.
CCTV systems used within a hotel, like restaurants, bars and reception, can be mini crime hotspots – and that decent cameras can help to deter this.
He explains, “We work with a lot of the major hotel chains – often they have quite old CCTV systems and the images they capture don’t really give the story, whereas the newer systems now record much better high definition pictures which can help to combat petty theft.
“You often see a lot of activity in restaurant areas or reception, where people are more likely to leave bags – those areas are often targeted by thieves who will look to steal baggage and other items.”
One of Scotland’s main suppliers of CCTV system is Glasgow-based firm Sims Automatics, Director Alison Lambie told DRAM Scotland, ““The reasons hoteliers would look to install CCTV are identical to the pub trade – to protect staff and to protect customers. There are increasingly incidents of crime (small and more serious) where CCTV can be invaluable in assisting police with their enquiries, and even a simple system with a few cameras – eg at reception – will provide a deterrent for any possible criminal incident.”
She went on, “Till scan can be added to a CCTV system and will monitor all transactions through a till. This allows staff to be checked and ‘overcharging’ eliminated if staff know they are being monitored.
“We have also seen an increase in requests for ‘remote access’. This allows owners to view remotely (from their home or even from abroad) what is happening on their premises when they are not present.”
One of the most serious physical threats to guests and to your business is an unexpected fire. This is usually a kitchen fire, often as a result of a lack of cleaning of equipment or associated extraction equipment, but incidents can also occur due to an electrical fault or a guest causing an accident.
The June blaze at Grenfell Tower in London, in which at least 80 residents died, has had repercussions for the hotel industry too after it emerged that at least three Premier Inns have cladding similar to the high-rise block.
The hotel group said it was ‘extremely concerned’ about aluminium cladding used at its hotels in Maidenhead, Brentford and Tottenham. The chain said that the material did not appear to comply with current fire safety standards for tall buildings although it is fire retardant cladding and not the same material used on Grenfell.
The Grenfell blaze also gave Manorview pause for thought, as David explained.
He remarked, “We have our risk assessments and we look at our fire compliance periodically. On the back of the Grenfell Tower disaster, naturally, we had a look – ‘Are we in shape? Are we fit for purpose?’ We’ve updated it and it’s in a healthy way. But it does run through your mind, and we certainly had discussions around making sure that we were keeping our promises.
David continued, “The robbery at Gleneagles also appeared on our radar, but what makes it different is the retail aspect. We don’t have that. There’s always that risk of a robbery taking place, and that’s part of our training and risk assessments, but it gave us less to think about than the Grenfell fire did. There’s risks every day, you just have to be as prepared as you can
Another way of protecting guests is very obviously protecting them from card fraud. And an easy way to do this is to ensure that you have a CardsSafe system installed. Customers can then rest assured that the cards retained by the hotel are protected with the guest holding the security key to their unqiue box until they come to pay their bill.
All of the aforementioned have the same theme – that paying attention to detail, maintaining high standards and encouraging your staff to do the same is the key to keeping guests safe and secure.