Striking The Delicate Balance Between Hospitality And Security

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By Harry Kazakian, President/CEO of Los Angeles-based USA Express Legal and Investigative Services

First impressions have always meant a lot in the hospitality business. The door staff’s brisk attentiveness, the concierge’s cheerful professionalism, and the warm attention of check-in staff all contribute to a quality guest experience.

Yet, in a lawsuit, staff of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas were considered among the contributory factors when a mass murderer slipped past them to carry out his plan to turn his 32nd floor room as a sniper’s nest to kill 58 innocent people attending a nearby music festival. A regular guest at the hotel, the shooter amassed an arsenal of 23 guns and ammunition, bringing it all inside 10 suitcases he carried into the hotel over several days. The Oct. 1, 2017 atrocity was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

MGM Resorts International announced on Oct. 3 that an $800 million settlement was reached with the victims’ families and 851 injured survivors. This ended what surely would have been a protracted legal battle revolving around the question of whether the hotel bore any responsibility.

This unimaginable tragedy and its aftermath led to national speculation on whether hotels are being diligent enough in providing security. Where is the balance between hospitality and increased security?

A cultural difference

Guests of American hotels are unaccustomed to the high-security levels found at hotels in nations that have been frequent targets of terrorist attacks.

In Israel, Indonesia and India, for instance, the strength of hotel security is more akin to that found in airports. Vehicle barricades protect entries, armed guards patrol the hallways and grounds and luggage goes through X-ray screening. Guests are expected to accept this as part of the check-in process, in order to reduce the risk of attack.

The Lemon Tree Hotel at the New Delhi airport tracks visitors with a facial recognition system. Israel’s King David Hotel reportedly uses infrared surveillance, an HVAC system that can foil poison gas, and bomb-searching robots. Hotels are turning to bullet-proof windows, metal detectors, handheld explosives trace detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs.

There’s no getting around the fact that high-security requires more intrusiveness. With the U.S. hospitality industry’s priorities aimed at increasing guest convenience, boosting security cannot be a carbon-copy of measures taken in nations faced with ongoing insurgencies.

Soft-skills and technology are the key. To avoid another mass shooting and record-setting lawsuit, a few low-tech safety measures, such as simply using a trained human’s eyesight, can go a long way.

I understand we are living in the U.S.; however, times have changed and we must be proactive rather than reactive, in order to prevent tragedies like this one.

Mitigating risk

There is nothing any business anywhere can do to make themselves 100 percent protected against determined, dangerous individuals, whether they be lone gunmen or terrorists. But the danger can be minimized as much as possible. A lawyer’s argument that a defendant is liable rests a good deal on the ability to foresee, and address, preventable vulnerabilities in hotel security.

Many hotel security measures are invisible to the public. Surveillance cameras are discreet, room keys are programmed to restrict floor access, and security guards certainly aren’t walking around in military-style uniforms toting Uzis.

Hotels should consider adding some more visible deterrents. Security should patrol hallways frequently to establish their presence, and look for anomalies. The Las Vegas shooter attached a camera to his room peephole, for instance. Another clue would have been the do not disturb sign, which hung outside his door for four days straight. A simple policy that each guest room needed to be accessed by hotel staff every 24 hours to check on room conditions, for guest well-being, could have made a difference.

Consideration also should be given to inspecting and tagging all hard-sided luggage, since guns are typically transported in hard cases. That way, weapons are identified at the point of entry, rather than discovered after a shooting incident.

Security should also take notice if a guest makes frequent trips to and from the hotel room bringing in more than the typical amount of luggage. Using analytics software with a video security system could flag when an individual’s activities are suspicious, and they can be approached and questioned.

And as hotels weigh innovations intended to enhance customer convenience, such as self-service kiosks and automated check-in, human interaction is reduced. That presents a new vulnerability — and staff are probably a hotel’s strongest asset.

In Las Vegas, a housekeeper thought it was strange that the shooter had so many suitcases in his room, and she felt very unsettled by the way he stared at her while she was tidying up four days before the shooting – the last time she entered the room before the shooter placed that do not disturb sign on his door.

Every hotel’s crisis management preparations should include regular staff training on red-flags, from housekeepers on up. Training should teach staff to recognize patterns of suspicious activity, identify warning signs of a potentially dangerous guest, and how they should react to potential threats.

Although the world has changed, hotels can still provide premium experiences for guests without turning their properties into the fortresses found overseas. The trained eyes and active brains of staff, coupled with assurances that their observations will be taken seriously, may be as effective as the most cutting-edge technology – and go a long way toward thwarting an aggressive lawyer’s arguments a hotel didn’t do enough to protect its guests.

*This article was first published on hospitalitynet.org and reposted here with permission.