Employees Could Pose Greatest Risk With Regard To Hotel Safety, Security

HOUSTON? In terms of ensuring the safety and security of its paying public, it looks like the lodging industry needs to be more concerned with hotel-staff brainlock than with any guestroom doorlock. As noted by Ray Ellis, adjunct professor of hotel & restaurant management for the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management at the University of Houston here as well as director of the Loss Prevention Management Institute, the industry is investing thousands of dollars per property on sophisticated doorlocks, but that can be money wasted if front-desk personnel hand out key-cards without properly verifying the guest?s identity. According to Ellis, not only does such a breach of procedure put the guest at risk to harm, it also renders property ownership and management liable for any misfortune the guest may suffer as a consequence of this negligence. A 39-year veteran of the American Hotel & Motel Association?s safety and security initiatives, Ellis has also served as secretary and project director of the Hospitality Travel & Research Foundation, evp and secretary of AH&MA?s General Agency, and (current) secretary of the Hotel Association Group Trust. Speaking from a vantage point of the better part of a lifetime spent attending to traveler safety and security, Ellis said the big problem facing the industry today is still that of training hotel personnel on-site in the efficient and effective performance of their duties and responsibilities, including safety and security procedures. ?It?s an absolute necessity that the academic community provides cutting-edge, loss-prevention courses for those intent on entering the hospitality industry; courses that are designed to attune lodging employees to handle anything that happens,? he explained. As for what?s actually on academia?s agenda, Ellis said he knows of only three schools which currently offer such security courses: his own at the University of Houston, where it?s a required part of the curriculum, and two others where it is offered merely as an elective. ?This just doesn?t equitably reflect the bottom-line importance of safety and security in the lodging industry today,? he said. ?In fact, it?s high time the industry comes to recognize this. A good first step in this direction would be to routinely include the head of security on the [hotel?s] executive committee.? Continuing on, he said: ?If there?s any one single statistic that most reflects on the reliability of hotel staffers, it?s the fact that some 2.5 million guestrooms out of roughly 3.8 million in this country are equipped with electronic doorlocks… and as far as I know there has not been a single case of hotel liability raised because of lock-failure.? In addition to the obvious security of such electronic locking devices, Ellis pointed out that they also serve a secondary purpose. Such doorlocking mechanisms can provide the advantage of audit-trail capabilities, allowing hotel management to clearly discern who on staff has entered the guestroom and at what time they did so. But as important as room-access is to guest safety, Ellis noted effective risk-management doesn?t start and end at the guestroom door. It is an issue that will be adroitly addressed with the industry?s resumption of its Traveler Safety Campaign? a joint effort mounted by the AH&MA in concert with such other organizations as AAA, ASTA, MPI, AARP, the National Crime Prevention Council, etc. ?This campaign proved to be highly effective when it was first rolled out some years ago,? Ellis said. At its core is a wealth of literature imparting common-sense tips and safety reminders to the traveling public, all geared toward cutting down on ?crimes of opportunity.? To this end, while assault, rape, armed robbery and other acts of bodily violence necessarily command top priority, it has been widely suggested that today?s crime of choice committed on hotel premises is more often ?distraction? or ?diversion? type robberies. Closed-circuit te