Rating hotels based on security?

Monday, August 31, 2009

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--The July bombings of the Ritz-Carlton and Marriot hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia, as well as the 2008 terrorist attacks on hotels in Mumbai, India, have highlighted the ongoing struggles that hotel security directors face in fortifying their establishments.

"The incident that happened in Mumbai did bring a lot of security issues up for luxury hotels," said Christopher Nguyen, director of risk management of The Peninsula Hotel, a five-star hotel in New York City. "Luxury hotels are working hard to reach their security goals and it's an unfortunate time that the economy is down, but a lot of luxury hotels are trying not to cut their budget on security because of liability issues."

It is this recent global attention on hotel security that has driven a new initiative by global consultancy and research firm Frost & Sullivan to develop a rating system based on the security programs at hotels around the world.

Frost & Sullivan, in partnership with SDS Group, an international counter-terrorism consultancy firm, has created a Security Excellence Program to conduct risk assessments on hotel security programs and provide recommendations for the hospitality industry. This program was developed "so hotels can essentially learn the security infrastructure necessary to take them from being a soft to a hard target," said Dorman Followwill, partner and director with Frost & Sullivan.

The assessment, which will be paid for by hotels, will be based on several categories pertaining to hotel security practices. Key issues include training and

management of security staff, strength of emergency and contingency plans, assessment of security operations, perimeter and access control systems and the physical infrastructure of the hotel. A significant part of the evaluation concerns staff training. "We're evaluating security managers and staff and what type of training they've had, particularly realistic training," said Dr. John Wyatt, technical director, SDS Group. "It's not just book training, but rather: Have they carried out realistic exercises to cope with any situation?"

Conducting these assessments will provide benchmarking standards for hotels to compare the strength of their security program against other hotels, said Wyatt. It will also develop a set of 'best practices' in the hospitality sector and will allow an outlet for hotels to share security strategies.

However, Richard Hudak, managing partner at Resort Security Consulting, who is the former security director for Sheraton, said that he is skeptical an initiative like this would be accepted by the hospitality industry. "It's too much liability for an outside group to come out and review security program and what happens with this information and assessment done?" he said. Plus, the development of a rating system can be subjective. "Every hotel is different and built differently and it takes different measures to secure that property," he said. "Hotel security programs should be based upon the best practices of the area and the other hotels in that area."

In terms of the release of this information, Gile Downes, program manager for Frost & Sullivan said they are still in the process of deciding the best way to prevent this information. "This is a sensitive subject and we don't want the hospitality industry to perceive this as a threat, but rather as a complement to their security program," Downes said.

The team just completed its first assessment in August of the Cumberland Hotel in London. Upon the completion of more assessments, said that the organization will engage hotel security practitioners as to the best way to publish the results.

For more information on the Hotel Security Excellence Rating program, please visit www.hser.info or contact Gile Downes at gile.downes@frost.com.