Key Takeaways
As hotels reopen in a world where uncertainties abound, security will play a key role in rebuilding the bond of trust between hotels and guests.

Hospitality, Security, and Trust

Note: This article was first published by Hospitality Inside and is republished here with their permission. 

In his book, The Rules of Security, Staying Safe in A Risky World, Dr Paul Martin, CBE writes: “Trust makes the world go around, and security risks undermine it. Trust is the basis of civil society and is even more important at times of uncertainty.”

The man who says that is a man of weight: Dr Paul Martin CBE is a security practitioner with thirty years’ experience in the national security arena. During a career in UK government service from 1986 to 2013 he held a variety of senior positions and was awarded the CBE in 2013 for his services to defence. From 2013 to 2016 he was the Director of Security for the UK Parliament, with responsibility for the physical, personnel, and cyber security of both Houses.

NO ONE can dispute that we are living in a world where risks abound, and trust can be hard to come by.

Covid-19 caused travel to cease, hotels to close and forced people to isolate themselves in government ordered lockdowns. As countries around the globe started to contain the spread of the virus and allow businesses to reopen, often in a limited fashion, with pages of protocols to follow that covered everything from physical distancing requirements to cleaning and disinfecting routines to limiting the numbers of people allowed on site, we at NorthPoint have also seen upticks in fear in populations bombarded by scary statistics and doomsday predictions.

Borders remain closed between many countries; companies are restricting their employees from traveling and air travel is still severely limited compared to pre-Covid times. Fingers of blame have been pointed at people based on where the virus was deemed to have started, what actions were taken, what actions were not taken and how fast or how much of the economy can be reopened. Virologists have been questioned in their role as the political voices.

Trust Wiped Out in Six Months

All of this means that much of the trust and confidence we had when travelling in recent times, has been wiped out in the first six months of 2020.

What steps can hotels take now to rebuild the bond with their guests and what role can, will and should security play in that process?

We’ve seen the campaigns from some of the big brand owners. Many have partnered with one institution or another to offer enhanced cleaning protocols which begs the question of why this wasn’t done during previous pandemics or, if it was done, why did they stop doing it? Most mention nothing of whether the new procedures and protocols apply to franchises as well as managed hotels. This could mean that the new measures only apply at some, but not all, hotels flying a brands flag. Like the two-for-one offers at global fast food chains, the messaging should carry a disclaimer stating “only at participating locations” so guests are fully informed before they choose.

We’ve seen senior leaders touting online check-in/check-out and mobile key access as something that will limit the need for human interaction and make guests feel safer. But does that mean conversely that it could be risky to have face to face interaction with a staff member?

We’ve seen hotels that will implement temperature checks of arriving guests, resorts that require negative Covid-19 tests before allowing guests to register and we’ve seen that although breakfast buffets have been done away with, some hotels offer “grab and go” ready packed meals for collection from a table or from the front desk and one wonders how the line ups will be managed at 8 a.m. How will these measures increase a guest sense of security? Imagine this scenario: You are travelling some distance for a weekend away only to find out that a menopausal elevation of your temperature, aka a “hot flash”, denies you access to your prepaid accommodation.

Flood of Measures Does Not Boost Confidence

In short, while many campaigns and many websites tell us that our safety and security is the hotels’ highest priority, much of what has been done, including reduction of security staffing levels at corporate, regional and local levels, indicates that’s not necessarily true. The campaigns may be worded to make us feel good, but unless the guest experience proves that risk and uncertainties are being reduced, building trust may remain a challenge.

The role of security in hospitality can be a strange one. So much is based on perception and that perception is by and large decided by how much the traveller trusts the destination. When I started my career in 1987, Norway was just emerging as a mature economy. It seems hard to fathom now, but we had a full-service security department with 15 employees in a 500-room hotel back then.  We also had five full-service F&B outlets and 24-hour room service. All of them did big business.

As the market evolved and international travellers trusted the destination more, people ventured out into the city to try local restaurants, bars and clubs. Room service was scaled back, outlets were closed or leased out to private operators. Staff costs more in mature markets too, and as local law enforcement became trusted not only by the locals, but also by travellers, the hotel security department was scaled back. Similar pictures can be found in many places in Europe and now, hotels with full-time, full-service security staff are few and far between.

Visible Security – An Old Feeling is in Demand Again

People might even have felt a bit uneasy if they arrived at a standard, four-star hotel in Northern Europe in January and saw security at the entrance, in the lobby, patrolling the premises and controlling the doors to conference areas. They would feel uneasy because it would be an unusual or unexpected sight. If the same people traveled to other destinations, in “emerging” markets, the opposite would happen. They may have felt uneasy if they didn’t see visible security staff protecting and patrolling the grounds.

The point is that when travel to new or distant destinations first started, people were uncertain of what they would find or how they would be taken care of. Seeing trained security staff as part of the hotel services gave them the feeling that the hotel was their safe haven. They would be cared for and they would be safe.

As travel, especially international travel, restarts today – during and as Corona restrictions are relaxed –, many guests will have the same feelings of anxiousness or uncertainty as they might have if they were flying off to a destination where they knew far less about local risks, infrastructures and preparedness.

Employees Who Protect

Hotels can relieve some of that uncertainty by ensuring they fill the role similar to the one a security department played when the market was emerging. Manning the staff entrance to ensure employees are comfortable, healthy and complete health documentation self-assessments if required. Maintaining a presence in guest areas, responding rapidly to incidents and handling calls from guests that may feel unwell. This can be done with in-house security staff, contract security or even guest services staff, provided they are well-trained, well-equipped and well-prepared.

The liaison a well-run security team has with local authorities, first responders and foreign embassies or missions as well as their counterparts in security at corporate client companies can also be an invaluable asset; a differentiator during times of ever-changing needs and expectations both from guests and government authorities.

One also needs to prepare for the fact that staff may also feel anxious or even fearful of returning to a workplace that caters to foreign people that come in from places where Covid-19 containment may be less certain. They also need to be confident that the hotel is taking care of their safety and their security too. Again, a well-trained and well-prepared team that supports their work environment and can be called on for assistance will play a great role in allaying their fears.

Being served and taken care of by a comfortable and confident staff, especially those in guest facing roles, will do far more than a flashy ad campaign.

So, how can a traveller from a foreign land or even the other side of your own country feel comfortable and confident enough to book your hotel?

Many of the global brand owners and indeed many independent hotels have engaged third party resources and certification companies to help prove that their hotels are Covid clean and safe. That’s fine, but we know that travellers will be spending time outside the hotels as well. I would suggest that there should be more collaboration between different stakeholders at the various destinations. With each brand professing to have invented the best cleaning practices or removed the most touch points, travellers can be overwhelmed by the varying verbiage in the messaging. If all the hotels, restaurants and attractions at a destination marketed the same package of information and guidance on how their destination was keeping safe and aligned with their local regulations and available expertise, the perception of those looking to travel might be better. They would see that in the battle against Covid-19, competitors were cooperating to make sure everyone was kept safe.

One example of where this has been done is the mountain resort town of Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada where the local tourism organization and local recovery task force created a common set of “Revy Rules” to guide and encourage safe practices and behaviours by businesses, residents and tourists alike.

Covid-19 is a true global crisis. As some health experts explain: “If it is anywhere, it is everywhere.” In other words, we truly are all in this together and until a solution in the form of effective treatments or vaccines are available, the world and perhaps especially for those that travel or work in travel related businesses, we are dependent upon the behaviours of others in addition to our own actions. The more we can align when we communicate and the more we can collaborate on best practices, the more we will contribute to keeping hotels safe and the better the chance that we will successfully overcome the obstacles that remain in front of us.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Has your hotel implemented new protocols and procedures to keep employees and guests safe during the pandemic?
  2. Are your protocols aligned, adapted and kept up to date with relevant government guidelines?
  3. Have you worked with others in your local market to develop a common approach and marketing of how hotels and hospitality businesses are working together to keep people safe?

When a crisis arises, it’s easy to narrowly focus on your own problems and priorities, even though others may be struggling with similar challenges. This is the case with the Covid-19 pandemic. NorthPoint International’s expertise is renowned for contributing to public private partnerships to successfully support a common cause. Contact us and let’s help hotels and hospitality businesses at your destination realise the incremental values and benefits of working together.