Size, scale, budget determine hotel security plan

After hiring local police to act as security at the Best Western Savannah (Ga.) Historic District, Vesta Hospitality saw its issues decrease dramatically. Photo credit: Vesta Hospitality

Though some aspects of a hotel’s security are relatively straightforward—ensuring the parking lot is well lit, mounting cameras around the perimeter and the entrance—how it handles security personnel can leave the most room for interpretation.

Management generally has two choices when it comes to security personnel: contract an outside company or hire security in-house. The ultimate decision depends on a variety of factors, but generally comes down to whether a hotel is large enough to justify the extra work and liability that comes with managing the security staff itself.

Outsourcing

Paul Frederick, founder of Hospitality Security Advisors, said the first thing a hotel must consider often is the nearby labor pool. For smaller hotels, where quality security officers may not be immediately available for hire, he said it generally is better to outsource to a nationwide company specialized in security.

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Another factor that can lead hotels to outsourcing security is liability. Mark Hemmer, COO of Vesta Hospitality, said that, outside of having two or three individuals onsite overnight to observe and call authorities in case of an emergency, it doesn’t directly employ anyone for security. In the locations where Vesta does decide it needs security people, he said they are contracted out, “just for that risk of liability.”

Brad Bonnell, principal of Hotel Security Group and VP of loss prevention at Extend Stay America, warned that though the security company typically will assume liability in whatever contract they sign, “a hotel is never going to be completely indemnified when there’s litigation.” To minimize any exposure to risk, he recommended checking a potential company’s licensing and insurance before signing an agreement. On top of that, he suggested the hotel could have itself named as the beneficiary of the insurance. This ensures the hotel would receive notification should the security company ever lose its insurance.

Similar to hiring an outside security company, hotels can choose to hire off-duty police officers. Though the choice may leave guests staying at more upscale hotels uneasy, Bonnell said that, at the economy and midscale level, it can instead provide a feeling of safety.

Hemmer said Vesta uses local police when it needs more of a presence. One of the two hotels where it does take this route, the Best Western Savannah Historic District in Georgia, he said, had a problem with people coming to the city to party and then not controlling themselves well at the hotel. But, once it began hiring local police, its problems disappeared. “Our problems went from ‘Oh my gosh, this is terrible, we’ve got to address this, we got to come up with a better policy,’ to nothing is an issue; and we like it that way.”

In-House

Frederick said larger hotels, those over 500 rooms, might have better luck with in-house security. Though the liability may be greater, he said, “it may be worth the risk because you know who the people are and what decisions they’re going to make because you’re the ones that train them.”

Bonnell pointed out another downside of contracting: the money spent on that security team will never be seen again. Unlike investing in fences, gates, lights or cameras, contracted security is not a direct investment into the hotel. Additionally, if those guards are not properly trained and “integrated into the corporate culture, the hotel may actually reduce the security capability of the hotel.”

High-Profile Guests

Should a hotel begin attracting heads of state or even the president, its existing security setup can make a major difference in its experience during that stay.

“In the case where you have a sort of sophisticated structure in place, the coordination and dynamic between the federal authorities and the hotel teams, and then ultimately the hotel operation, tend to be a lot smoother,” said Michael Doyle, EVP/managing director at CHMWarnick. When a hotel without that structure finds itself with a high-profile guest, that individual’s security team typically will take over, disrupting the hotel’s entire operation. “They will sort of approach this from the standpoint of we’re here to protect this particular sort of individual and we’re going to take over everything and you’re going to take our lead on how things work,” he said.

Larry Trabulsi, EVP at CHMWarnick, said building a history with that individual’s security detail can help improve the experience. “They know the hotel team can work with them and meet the needs and that makes it easier for everybody if they’ve done it before,” he said.

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