Hotel safety and security is a growing concern among travelers throughout the world. Let’s face it; traveling is stressful enough without having to worry about becoming a crime victim while away from home. One only has to look at the negative impact on hotel bookings, following a highly publicized tourist attack, to see how important the perception of security is to the traveler.
When there is a choice, frequent travelers will seek out a hotel property that has superior security amenities. Initially, savvy travelers will select a property that satisfies their criteria and balance of location, price, business facilities, and food service. However, after visiting the property, it’s the security features that might determine the continued loyalty of a guest.
The first opportunity to present a positive impression about the relative safety of a hotel or motel property is at the perimeter. For maximum effectiveness, there must be an obvious and distinct design transition as you enter the property from the public street. Solid deterrent cues include significant barriers like perimeter walls, decorative fencing, landscaped terraces, and a well-defined driveway and main entrance. A strong transition sends a subliminal message to the criminal that this hotel is private property and for use by hotel guests only.
Good exterior lighting is designed to fill the gap between the property boundary and the hotel entrance and is the most important nighttime security feature. Public areas, when bathed in light, are both inviting to the guest and a powerful deterrent to crime. Good exterior lighting will allow you to see a potential threat at 100 feet. This minimum level of visibility gives you time to respond to the threat before being confronted by it. Exterior lighting must be even and balanced. Balanced lighting appears warm and comfortable and makes a property feel safe.
To achieve a balanced lighting effect, more fixtures are often necessary to fill the lighting gaps. Huge floodlights are not the best choice because they are not energy-efficient and tend to create glare and heavy shadows between fixtures. A surprising benefit of adding more and smaller light fixtures are that the total wattage can be reduced, which will save significant amounts of energy. Many properties have been able to pay for their entire lighting fixture upgrade in just one year, based on their energy savings alone.
Parking lot security is often the most overlooked area on a hotel property. Stranger-to-stranger crimes against persons are more likely to occur in the parking lot than in any other location. This is because parking lots offer the criminal the best hiding places, the fewest witnesses, and the quickest escape route. Parking lot surveillance can be relatively inexpensive by installing video cameras, but nothing beats a highly visible, uniformed security patrol that is capable of responding to a criminal incident and can call for help. Besides, a hotel guest would rather see a “live person” on the job that is paid to look out for their welfare.
Highly visible doormen and valet parking attendants are a great crime deterrent, especially on smaller hotel properties. Nothing instills more confidence in a hotel guest than a capable doorman who greets and makes eye contact with them as they enter the property. Criminals don’t like doormen for two reasons: First, they don’t want to be identified, and second, they don’t want to be captured should they have to escape in a hurry. Without competent curbside security, crimes like purse snatches, car thefts, and luggage thefts would increase substantially on most urban properties.
A doorman can monitor a property better if the number of entrances is limited, especially at night. This design philosophy gives the hotel the advantage of making the criminal feel “out of place” and therefore more likely to be deterred.
Access control cues must continue inside the property to be totally effective and to foster that “safe and secure feeling” within a guest. As for the criminal, access control is like peeling an onion…the more layers they penetrate…the more uncomfortable it should feel.
Interior Access Control
In addition to physical barriers, access control involves the use of electronic equipment, personnel, and procedures. For example, the entire hotel staff should be trained to be attentive to all persons and report suspicious activity to the manager-on-duty. Hotel guests love this high level of courtesy and staff attentiveness, while criminals hate it. Hotel criminals prefer to remain unnoticed and anonymous. Multiple staff contacts will make them feel very uncomfortable and is usually enough to make them go elsewhere to ply their trade.
In a high-rise hotel, the ground floor lobby presents another major opportunity to deter crime. The best security designs position the registration, bellman, and concierge desks in a position to view critical access points. Important access points include the front, back, or side entrances, elevator banks, lounge, and restaurant entrances. In large metropolitan hotels, extra attention needs to be paid to guest luggage, briefcases, and handbags left casually on the lobby floor.
The guestroom represents the inner-circle of a hotel security plan. The guestroom is the sanctuary for the weary traveler where they expect to be safe. The guestroom doors and windows must be fortified to prevent forced entry, especially at the ground level. Doors must be nothing less than solid-core wood or metal, and be self-closing and self-locking. The door lock must consist of a high quality deadbolt with at least a one-inch bolt. The lock strike-plate must be bolted securely to the metal doorframe or by using three-inch screws when attached to a wood doorjamb. Accessible sliding windows must have secondary security devices attached to prevent forced entry or lifting out of the frame.
Visible signs of door lock maintenance are important to travelers. Doors must be tight fitting and the locks must be in good condition and should give a distinctive “clunk” as the deadbolt slides and locks in place. Guestroom doors must be equipped with a wide-angle peephole so a guest can see who is outside before opening the door.
A much appreciated guest amenity is the personal in-room lock-box. I especially appreciate the large ones that can secure my laptop computer. Electronic and keyless lock-boxes are best, as long as they are securely anchored. Although not designed to replace the hotel safe deposit box, in-room lock-boxes provide extra peace of mind for storing small valuables and personal documents.
Metal room keys are being replaced by electronically coded key-cards. There is nothing more unsettling than checking into an upscale hotel and being issued a metal room key with the correct room number stamped on the key. Metal keys require a hotel to maintain an elaborate key control system with daily inventories of master key and E-Key checkout logs for the staff. The guest has no way of knowing that an adequate key control system is in place. If a room key or master key turns up missing, the affected locks must be changed. This event creates an on-going maintenance expense for a hotel.
Metal room keys do not make the same “security statement” as coded plastic key-cards. Key-cards have the capability of being randomly coded at the point of registration, which re-emphasizes the guest perception of room security. Key-card control is computer-based and therefore creates the necessary audit trail automatically. Master keys can be changed in a matter of a few keystrokes and lost key-cards are easily removed from the system. One of the best security features is the ability of the computer to interrogate each door lock and get a printout of everyone who accessed a particular room. This dramatically cuts down on theft from the rooms by hotel employees.
Traveler demand for hotels that promote enhanced security will increase in the coming especially with the added fear of terrorism. Security amenities are important to travelers, especially the elderly and women traveling alone. I predict security conscious properties will gain advantage over competing hotels that fail to recognize this important new trend.