While hotels often apply innovation strategies to improving customer service and experience, now guest and employee safety is gaining an equally important focus. The greatest challenge in the application of IT for safety measures is the wide variety of available technologies that can make implementation daunting for hoteliers.
“The very first thing hotel executives should do — and this gets skipped a lot — is conduct an evaluation of risks, threats and vulnerabilities,” Peter Klebanoff, consultant, PointersRidge LLC says. “The Intercontinental Baghdad has very different security needs from the Hilton Garden Inn in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Not every hotel needs facial recognition technology with live alerts streaming to the FBI. Figure out what your problem areas are first before throwing money at a high-tech solution.”
With improvements in location technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, the basics of security are bolstered by a trifecta of next-gen capabilities. These innovations require a thoughtful approach to deployment and strategic approaches on how to best leverage the technology where appropriate.
Location: The Linchpin to Security
The rise of panic buttons in the hotel industry has led to a vast improvement in location tracking technology. In many cases, vendors are able to pinpoint a staff member’s location within a two-room radius. However, due to privacy concerns, panic buttons do not track an employee until the button itself has been pushed and an alert has been sent.
“Hotel staff labor unions have made it clear that panic buttons should not be used by hotel management to track an employee to see if they are working or not,” says Katie Lee, Director of Hospitality Systems, Sonesta Hotels (www.sonesta.com). “That type of monitoring becomes a privacy issue and Sonesta Hotels agrees that employees have a right to privacy.”
In the future, however, hotel staff members may be given the choice to opt-in to being tracked at all times. Why? Staff members could receive help faster if they were to personally suffer a medical emergency such as a stroke or heart attack, according to Polaris Wireless (www.polariswireless.com). If that employee is being tracked constantly, hotel management could receive an alert if the staff member is stationary for an unusual amount of time and could send someone to do a wellness check. Similarly, in the case of a hostage situation, management could receive alerts if one or even multiple employees remain in the same area and are motionless for an extended period of time.
Staff aren’t the only ones who could benefit from location tracking technology. Hoteliers could also use it to improve safety for guests. In a VIP guest situation, hotel staff could set up a geofence around the guest’s room which would trigger an alert if staff members show up in that area that aren’t authorized to be there.
Similarly, this technology could be used to indicate to staff when a crowd is forming. Hotel management could dispatch more employees to the front desk to help with arrivals and check-ins, improving the guest experience. Or if the crowd is forming due to a disturbance or some other security situation, management could dispatch security or call the authorities for help, Polaris Wireless adds.
Additionally, guests could also opt-in to being tracked through the hotel’s mobile app. In large resorts and on cruise lines, this is especially useful when family members want to be able to find each other quickly or if they worry about a young child wandering off.
Carnival Cruise Lines (www.carnivalcorp.com) offers an app called OceanCompass that tracks passengers as they wear OceanMedallion IoT devices. The app provides a person’s location, directions to their location, and allows guests to message each other. Because the IoT device is tracking the guest at all times, it is also able to provide a variety of enhancements to the guest experience which has led to very high opt-in rates. According to React Mobile (www.reactmobile.com), some hospitality-adjacent industries — such as universities, casinos and ridesharing companies — are considering adding a panic button within mobile apps for students and customers to use as an added security measure.
Allowing guests to opt-in to being tracked could be a huge benefit to hotels and guests in an emergency situation, Klebanoff says. For example, during a fire or active-shooter emergency, hotel management could pinpoint a guest’s location and send them step-by-step instructions to get them to safety, including which direction to turn as they exit their room, which elevator or stairway to use, and what exit doors to open. As the situation changes, the instructions could be updated in real-time.
For this technology to be effective, it needs to work flawlessly as must the network on which it operates. Sonesta Hotels found that some of the frontrunners in the location tracking tech space rely heavily on Wi-Fi provided by the hotel. This would mean that the hotel would need to ensure it offered staff a Wi-Fi network without any dead zones, Lee says. Barring that, hotels would need to not only spend CapEx dollars on the staff alerting devices, they’d also need to invest in wireless infrastructure. Other companies use beacon, LTE or RF signal technology to locate staff. This means that the tracking technology doesn’t “ride the current infrastructure of the hotel,” and the cost provided by the tracking tech company represents the entire investment needed in order for the technology to work effectively.
Move Over, Robocop: How Robotics Patrol Property Wide
While some hotels have begun to implement robots to help with housekeeping tasks, room service deliveries and other back-of-house operations, the Pechanga Resort Casino (www.pechanga.com) in Temecula, Calif., has partnered with Knightscope Inc. (www.knightscope.com) to deploy robots that use facial recognition and weapon detection technology via built-in cameras to improve the safety of its resort. The facial recognition technology allows the robot to identify people of interest, whether that be a terminated employee or a valuable repeat guest. It also has the ability to identify visible weapons. This information is then relayed to Pechanga’s security team.
“Knightscope’s enhanced capabilities provide Pechanga with added levels of security that were not possible before,” said Robert Krauss, Vice President of Public Safety at Pechanga Resort Casino, in a press release. “We began working with Knightscope and their security robots over a year ago. Pechanga knew the technology would be another tool for the resort-casino’s 350-person public safety team in maintaining wellbeing for our guests and team members.”
Lee points out that camera systems are a large capital cost, which is why some hotels might want to consider using robotic technology in this way.
“I could see a roving robot being less expensive than installing hundreds of cameras everywhere in a large resort or hotel,” Lee says.
Artificial Intelligence, Real Improvements to Security Cameras
For hotels that already have camera systems in place, updating this technology from analog to IP-based has added benefits. Sonesta Hotels is currently working to upgrade the cameras at all of its properties in this way.
“IP-based cameras allow for a lot of functionality,” she notes. “We’ll be able to centralize the management and view of those cameras. From a corporate perspective, we can have a corporate director of security review any camera on any property. And IP cameras will make it possible one day to implement AI technologies and facial recognition tech, which analog cameras can’t offer.”
Hotels can even put alarms on their camera feeds so that if a certain number of pixels move a certain amount, the feed is automatically transferred to the largest screen monitor.
“It’s like a motion sensor alarm,” Klebanoff says. “If you point the cameras at doors that are never or rarely used, this is a great way to pinpoint some type of breach by unauthorized individuals.
Don’t Skimp on Staff Training
Staff training plays an equally important role in ensuring that both employees and guests can be as safe as possible while on hotel premises.
“Our security officers are Certified Lodging Security Officers, licensed by the American Hotel & Lodging Association,” says Clarence Izzard, global director of safety and security, Marriott Vacations Worldwide (www.marriottvacationsworldwide.com). “We make sure we train security staff on anything they might encounter, from the most serious to the minor.”
According to Izzard, security staff at Marriott Vacation properties are generally each property’s “first responders.” They’re called when staff realize that a problem is beginning to occur or are worried that a problem might escalate, such as an upset guest or an altercation. However, when any type of violence is involved — all associates, not just security staff — are trained and know to call 911 and get law enforcement involved immediately.
WARNING: Train Staff on Smart & Appropriate Use of Panic Buttons
While some hotel operators may work the same way as Marriott Vacations Worldwide, sending security or some other assigned staff member to check out an alert before alerting law enforcement, other hotel companies may set panic buttons to directly call law enforcement. Without the proper training, hotels could incur significant fines if employees were to call law enforcement when the situation didn’t warrant police involvement.