REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Recent media reports scrutinizing the vulnerability of guestroom door locks have brought hotel guest safety issues to the forefront of hoteliers’ minds. As the media and traveling public continue to express their concerns, hotel companies are taking steps to ensure a safe environment for guests.
Marriott International, for example, issued a statement on its website that said the company is in the process of implementing solutions to resolve any issues with door locks that could compromise guest safety.
For InterContinental Hotels Group, delivering a safe experience on a consistent basis is a priority, said Jim Anhut, senior VP of Americas brand management for the company, during last month’s IHG Americas Conference.
“We’re in the people business, and their safety is right at the forefront of anything and everything we do,” he said.
While Anhut was unable to provide specific details about how IHG is handling the recent scrutiny on security, he said IHG has “standards, procedures and policies that are in place and (resources) that are available to our owner community and our management companies.”
Reevaluating standards and policies
As hotel management companies and major hotel brands continue to review security processes and implement solutions, there are a few points for hoteliers to keep in mind when it comes to guest safety, according to Fred Del Marva, president of hotel consulting firm Del Marva Corporation.
Guest safety starts at the front desk during the check-in process, Del Marva said.
The standard policy throughout the industry is for front-desk employees not to verbally issue guests their room numbers, he said.
Many in-room assaults occur because the attacker overheard front-desk attendants give guests their room numbers out loud, Del Marva said. “(At) any good or responsible hotel … they’ll write it down.”
Securing a guest’s personal belongings also falls within the realm of hotel security, he said.
In many instances, guests leave their rooms only to find upon returning later the door did not close properly, which can result in theft, Del Marva said,.
Some hotels have implemented a solution to this problem, he said. “There’s a magnet (on the door) connected to the front desk, where if the door is left ajar, it notifies the front desk and sends security up there.”
Policies also need to be in place with housekeepers and hotel personnel, Del Marva said. These employees need to be made aware they should be cautious about letting anyone into a room if they believe a guest is locked out.
Liability for owners
An assault on guests or theft of their belongings during a hotel stay can result in a court case, according to Jim Butler, a founding partner at law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP.
Once the case is taken to court, the “reasonable person” test is used to determine the outcome, Butler said. If hotel owners are made aware of a procedure or item in their property that is not keeping the guest safe, they are required to do what a reasonable person would do under those circumstances. “And if they don’t, they’re negligent,” he said.
It all depends on the facts and circumstances of each case, but if the owner is aware there is a clear risk of harm to a guest, there is a strong exposure to liability for negligence, Butler said.
“There is a strong sense that hotels are places where people and their property are supposed to be safe,” he said. “(Hoteliers) should remember the most fundamental purpose of a hotel room, and even more important (than) the quality of the mattresses, is the security of the guest and their property.”
A guest’s responsibility
Del Marva said there is only so much a hotel operator can do to keep a guest safe.
“You wouldn’t expect a hotel front-desk clerk when you check-in to say, ‘Hey, this is a very bad neighborhood. We have a lot of transients walking into the hotel,’” he said. Front-desk clerks leave it up to the guest to read any security policies and obtain research about the safety of the hotel’s surrounding area.
Guests cannot assume that because they are in a hotel that they will be immune from all harm, Del Marva said. “Never take for granted … that you’re going to be safe, no matter where you go.”
Physical security is good/very necessary. Beyond that the lack of secure internet connections in guest rooms is of concern. Without VPN software, a guest is, electronically speaking, naked to the world or, at least, to any hacker within range of the hotel's Wifi.
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