Does Luxury Equal Security?: A Tale of Two Properties

Does Luxury Equal Security?: A Tale of Two Properties

By Philip Farina, CEO & Principal Security Consultant , Farina and Associates, Ltd.

Luxury properties are wrought with upscale amenities from lavish architecture and furnishings designed to transform your world, exotic ingredients and foods to satisfy even the most squeamish and discerning palates, rare wines and cocktails procured specifically to take guests on a euphoric journey. Even what you smell, what is in the air, has been carefully selected to entice guests to embrace the full experience and pleasure of what the hotel has to offer. Yet with no expense being spared on providing these amenities; the security and safety for guests often falls short.

It’s a common misconception. Most guests believe that due to the high level of accommodations and the prices that they are paying for these services, their security and protection is assured. In many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, security and safety in hospitality properties around the globe is considered way behind the curve ball when compared to other industries.

The reasoning behind this can be three-fold:

1. Reputation - Hospitality organizations are concerned about their reputation to customers, stock holders and their competition. Any information related to security, or lack thereof, can make the organization appear weak and is often deemed a detriment that can affect the strength of their branding.

2. Financial – As noted, hotels do place a tremendous emphasis on providing the best amenities to their guests while attempting to maximize their revenue. This leaves little room for the security and safety aspect.

3. Return On Investment, or ROI - Traditionally speaking, security and safety have not been known to be revenue producing entities or contributors to the bottom line. Successful programs attempt to quantify cost savings for the organization through a decrease in liabilities and risk. This is where many hotels draw the line and don't have an expectation of anything more. To complicate matters further, many hotel management teams place security and safety into stereotypical "required" expense categories.

The result: security, if available, often ends up with the least amount of focus, attention and resources needed to adequately address the challenges and risks facing numerous organizations.

It's important to remember that no two hotel properties are exactly alike. Depending upon one’s geographic location, community crime trends, profile of guests and global branding, hotels can be vulnerable to varying levels of risk. This may be as extreme as the element of terrorism or simply more common risks such as violent crimes, theft, fraud, fire, food poisoning or accidents occurring on property.

Luxury hotels fall into a special segment and category all their own. By the very nature of their high-end amenities and the spending habits of their affluent and high-net worth customers, they may be expected to implement additional levels of security and safety. Additionally, many properties are now quickly discovering that government customers, meeting and event planners may require that certain standards be met and proven, prior to a contract ever being signed.

A recent survey conducted by Choice Hotels Europe, indicated that SECURITY ranked as the #2 most important amenity requested by travelers. This is a strong trend that is catching on globally and luxury hoteliers can either stick their heads in the sand, like the ostrich and wait for an incident to occur then react in a less than modest fashion OR can become proactive by developing a strategic plan to address any potential risks. The wrong type of event occurring against just one property can be grounds for the failure of the business and can send ripple effects that are felt throughout the entire hospitality and tourism industries.

Incidents do not need to be extreme or security-related to affect the organization overall. Safety is also a dominant consideration. A luxury property, for instance, that hires a pest/extermination company to service its kitchen or restaurant areas may elect to have this performed in the evening hours when it is slower, so as not to disrupt the preliminary business activity. This is a common practice within the hospitality industry. However without proper staffing, supervision or communication on the part of the hotel or a misunderstanding in procedures and protocol from the pest control/extermination company; adequate venting and control of chemicals might not occur. This failure can have staff and guests complaining of suspicious fumes, exhibiting the possibility of illness or the late evening full evacuation of the property. The usual negative media and press coverage of this incident goes without saying.

On a greater note, the economic downturn may be forcing some honest people into desperation and dishonesty whether from external sources or within the employee pool itself. Due to the “open” and “welcoming” environment of hospitality, criminals look at luxury hotels and their guests as easy targets with intentions to exploit their weaknesses. And there are a myriad of ways for them to accomplish these goals.

In some cases, luxury hotels may do a better job of protecting its employees, guests and assets and in others, may fall well behind properties of a much lower level. In essence, just because a property has a high star or diamond rating, or is a member of an exclusive group; does not indicate a stronger level of security and safety.

For comparison, a visit was planned to two hotel properties in the Southeastern USA. At one, a very well known five star luxury hotel that included an award winning spa and restaurant. This property is just one part of a larger portfolio of similar rated luxury hotels. The other, a limited service property within easy reach of the first.

This luxury property touted itself on having an excellent security and safety program. Even going so far as to promoting this aspect heavily to attract new business from celebrities and affluent guests. Yet, they were experiencing a rather high rate of criminal incidents. The budget for security and safety programs was substantial however it was not being utilized to the best interests and benefits of the company.

They did have a full time security department that was staffed 24 hours per day and a state-of-the-art CCTV system with over 80 surveillance cameras. A key card locking system was also employed on all guestroom doors throughout the hotel. This property also went so far as to develop a proprietary in-house audit system that was designed to identify security discrepancies and safety violations throughout the property.

For the untrained eye, this property appeared to have the makings of a solid security and safety program. However, upon closer analysis, a number of concerns were brought to light.

While there was a security department on premises, the staff had no formal training, nor an on-the-job training program. With no training program in place, also came the violations of not only the individual security officers but the entire hotel for failure to comply with the state regulated licensure that was necessary to operate such a department. Due to constraints with the personnel budget, this same department was understaffed and plagued with overtime issues. Further, instead of the security officers focusing on the protection and safety of the property, they were tasked with providing services outside the scope of their duties including: assisting the housekeeping department with turndowns, guest moves and cleaning along with the delivery of room services orders. These were a clear case of negligence that exposed the hotel to severe liabilities.

At the helm of the department was a director of security, who himself was unlicensed and exhibited a militaristic disposition and non-customer service approach to dealing with the staff and guests.

The CCTV system did in fact have 80 surveillance cameras. However, over 60 of these cameras were either non-functioning or they were positioned in the wrong direction. This was the result of a combination of factors including a poor maintenance program, budget constraints and limitations of the original hotel’s architect who had insufficient knowledge of security system design. To top it off, there was no security staff monitoring these cameras.

An updated key card locking system was a recent (within a few years) addition to the property. While it was efficient and performed well; the system had not been audited and master keys allowing access to whole floors of guest rooms, meeting areas and store rooms were unaccounted for. This left the property extremely vulnerable to theft and violent crimes.

The hotel’s emergency evacuation plan was reviewed however it had not been updated in over 18 months despite turnovers in upper management and the property had not taken part in any tabletop exercises or drills. Had a real emergency occurred or an evacuation been necessary, most staff would not have known how to act.

Finally, the proprietary audit system actually was a well thought out program however it was being under-utilized and didn’t have the support or buy-in of other management and departments.

In contrast, just a few miles down the road, a limited service hotel was also analyzed. This one star hotel had no spa or restaurant. Just guest rooms and a small meeting space. They had no security department or security director and their budget for security and safety programs was minimal. Instead the hotel had contracted with a local security guard provider to supply them with officers for only the evening hours. The security guard company along with the individual officers were all in compliance with the state-mandated licensing requirements. Prior to being assigned to this hotel, security officers went through a 40+ hour training program and additional on-the-job training.

A CCTV system was present on the property. While it involved the use of 12 surveillance cameras, the system was considerably less in cost than what was contained on the luxury property. Yet, all cameras functioned properly and were positioned with the best possible viewing angles. A key card locking system for the guestrooms was in place and keys were accounted for at the end of every shift turnover.

Starting from day one of their employment at this property, all staff regardless of their function or affiliated departments was trained in the basics of security awareness and crime prevention. A recognition program was also in place which awarded employees for helping to keep the hotel safe. Due to this dynamic, the hotel experienced very infrequent reported incidents of theft and crime.

Being a much smaller, limited service property with less outlets and rooms than the first luxury property, the evacuation plan was simpler yet direct and to the point. It contained all the critical areas necessary for a strong program and had been updated by the General Manager. The staff had practiced drills twice per year.

Between the two properties, the limited service hotel maintained a much stronger security and safety foundation than the luxury hotel. This occurred only because the limited service property decided to take a proactive approach to security and better utilized their resources toward the overall program.

Luxury properties can take a cue from this comparison. Their advantage can be that they have larger budgets and resources available to them yet employing the simplest of methods and ideas have proven to be of the most benefit.

Outside organizations like the Hospitality, Entertainment and Tourism (HEaT) Security Council whose membership includes security professionals that work to advance safety within hotels on a global basis, along with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Commercial Facilities Sector are just a few valuable resources that play a major role in the creation of guidelines, best practices, benchmarks and standards affecting the hospitality industries.

Philip Farina, CPP is the CEO and Principal Security Consultant for the Farina and Associates, Ltd. companies. An analytical thinker who possesses over twenty years of in-depth industry specific knowledge and experience, Mr. Farina has been recognized as a pioneer and is regarded as one of the foremost advisors on hotel security, travel safety, executive protection and disaster preparedness. Mr. Farina is the Subject Matter Expert for the Hospitality, Entertainment and Tourism (HEaT) Security Council and holds a position as Assistant Regional Vice President of Special Projects for Region 13 of ASIS International (The most prestigious security organization in the world). He holds board certifications as a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) as well as Certified Lodging Security Director (CLSD). He is retained as a Special Security/Risk Advisor to law firms, family offices and risk control/insurance companies as well as affluent individuals, celebrities and private families. Mr. Farina can be contacted at 305-517-3664 or

Republished from the Hotel Business Review with permission from