Hotels check in

The last time you were in a hotel, you probably didn’t ask to check how good the locks were. You probably were more interested in the quality of the restaurant, or whether use of the sauna was included in the price. Perhaps . . . just perhaps, you checked where the fire exit was before you went to bed.

No, security isn’t the biggest issue for a guest – unless of course something goes wrong. Then you would want to know why the systems that you were sure were in place failed.   

Safehotels is a company based in Gothenburg, Sweden, offering advice on hotel security and certifying hotels as safe. CEO Hans Kanold says that hotel security consists of a combination of factors. “There’s the hardware, like locks, CCTV, fire alarms,” he says, “but there’s also the software – the appropriate routines, the training, the first aid facilities, the staff awareness.”  

Hardware and care
Knowing how to deal with someone who’s had too much to drink is as much a part of the staff’s job as is directing people to a fire exit in an emergency. “How does a member of the cleaning staff react when they’re standing outside a room and someone comes to them, says they’ve forgotten their key and asks to be let in?” Kanold asks.  “You could see it as good service if the cleaner says, ‘Of course sir, let me help you,’ but it would be good security service to say, ‘For security reasons, I have to ask you to go down to the reception and get your key.’”  

Hardware is important but it’s not enough, he adds.  “You have hotels where the hardware is good but maintenance is poor – and you have hotels which may have older technology, but good training.”  Standards vary enormously: “There are four- and five-star hotels with locks from the 1950s and 1960s. And people would be surprised at the differences between the fire systems in different hotels.”  

Hotels are as risky as the society around them. A hotel with a big conference going on has a lot of people milling around, and almost all of them are strangers. Kanold says that staff needs to check if there are “inappropriate” people in the lobby. He would like to see more control over how people get to the rooms, with card readers required to get through doors and into elevators.  

It is a difficult balance: “We don’t want it to feel like Fort Knox,” he says, “but while people accept that they will be checked thoroughly at an airport, and even asked to take off their shoes, they feel uncomfortable if they are asked to swipe their key card an extra time in a hotel.”  

Kanold thinks this is changing and that people are becoming more aware of security issues. But there’s no harm in making life easier for the guest as well, especially if it improves security. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) seems to be taking the hospitality industry by storm. RFID key cards only have to be placed close to a reader, and that in itself is a big improvement on the old systems.   

RFID advantages
Gard Gabrielsen, Product Marketing Director of VingCard Elsafe, says, “All travelers will have their own experience of standing at a door with a magnetic stripe key card, and trying to swipe it or insert it fast, slow, one way up, the other way up.”  Those days are over with the RFID card, which doesn’t even have to be a card. The RFID chip can be installed in a bracelet or wristband, which is a nice touch for tourists who want to go to the pool.  

Gabrielsen says RFID cards also have advantages for the hotel. They are more secure than magnetic stripe card technology. “RFID cards are embedded with an exclusive anti-cloning technology in order to avoid cloning valid guest or staff RFID cards.”  

In addition, RFID cards allow much better control of what’s going on. With magnetic cards, only the door readers record the events, whereas RFID locks can write on to RFID cards.  So the movements of a staff member can be tracked simply by looking at his/her card, instead of having to read every lock. Even information as to whether the battery in the door reader is low can be transferred to the card, making the system easier to maintain.  

RFID cards can also be used as identification to charge for services, such as drinks at the pool. That helps the hotel to integrate its billing, but it’s also attractive to guests.   Gabrielsen thinks that, while hotels do understand the benefits, there is also a lot of fashion and “coolness” involved. “They want to have the latest technology,” he says.  And since it’s only the reader and electronics which have to be changed, rather than the lock cases, the investment is not so dramatic he points out. “It’s more attractive than changing over to flat-screen televisions, for instance, where you have to throw away the old TV sets entirely.”  

Safehotels’ Hans Kanold says that few hotels are ready for certification at first examination. There is almost always a need for improvements. But he believes that tour organizers and business travel agents are demanding increasingly high standards. “They have a responsibility because of the risk of claims,” he says, “and as people carry increasingly valuable things around with them, they are beginning to expect that everything is done to ensure that their property is secure.” 


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