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Housekeepers Pivot on the Security Wheel

Thursday, June 6, 2019, 10:51 Hrs  [IST]

Every type of hospitality property is exposed to a myriad range of security threats such as theft, arson, and terrorist attacks. Advanced technological gadgets alone cannot safeguard hotels. The increasing frequency of attacks on hotel properties demands each associate to be trained to be the eyes and ears of the asset. Among the different departments of the hotel, the housekeepers, due to the very nature of their job, can play a critical role in the overall security eco-system of a hotel. Asmita Mukherjee finds out …..

Walt Disney World Resort Hotels recently eliminated “Do Not Disturb” signs from the hotel rooms of some of its properties to facilitate housekeeping access to guestrooms at regular intervals. Hilton also changed their “Do Not Disturb” policy to help housekeep manages suspicious activity while ensuring guest privacy. Such acts by leading hotel brands across the world highlight the growing dependency on the housekeeping department to ensure optimum guest and hotel security.

In today’s highly volatile security environment, each and every department of hotels need to be hyper vigilant to ensure a relaxing, comfortable, and safe stay for guests. While every associate of the hotel has his/her role in it, the housekeepers, being omni present on the hotel floors can play quite an important role in it.

However, it is important that housekeepers are trained properly to be the eyes and ears of the hotel so that any suspicious activity or movement by guests, visitors or even the associates themselves can be detected and reported.

As Biswadeep Chowdhury, Housekeeping Manager at JW Marriott Kolkata says, “Any property is replaceable but it is obvious that life is not. For us, it is critical to prevent any incident that may bring an emergency situation. The housekeeping team is usually in the vicinity of the guests during the daytime; hence it is vital that they are well skilled in measures that make our guests feel safe and secured”.

Since housekeeping staff are the first responders to guest emergencies in any hotel, it is imperative that they are well trained in safety and security procedures. Deepti Landage, Dy. Executive Housekeeper, Novotel Goa Shrem Hotel, emphasizes on the security training of housekeeping staff by saying, “Since the housekeeping staff has direct access to guest rooms they are able to catch unusual behaviours and suspicious materials that guest carries along. It is imperative that they are completely trained in all aspects of safety and security. Every staff working in hotels needs to be provided efficient training which may also include behavioural training, classroom training or on-premises training practical so as to suspect any danger.” As Animesh Damani, Managing Director of Platinum Hotels, Ahmedabad rightly explains, “The supervisor must be trained to decide the next course of action which normally includes involving their Head of Department, General/Operations Manager, and the Security Department”. Hotel housekeeping staff also need to be motivated regularly to ‘go above and beyond the call of duty’ ensuring optimum safety for their guests. Payal Mehta, Executive Housekeeper, Crowne Plaza New Delhi Okhla, highlights the importance of housekeeping staff in hotel security by saying, “Staff should be encouraged— if not rewarded—to report situations which may be suspicious, hazardous or potentially dangerous. Hospitality facilities make security inherently challenging because of their size, layout, and amenities, therefore staff should be alert and vigilant enough to detect any suspicious activity. This may include certain behaviours, activities or weapons which may be hazardous.”

Housekeeping staff are asked to look out for several pointers such as activities or items which create suspicion, specifically weapons or precursor materials, and their storage and use in rooms or public area, unusual behaviour or conversation by guest, and denial of cleaning or maintenance services. The handling and disposal of waste is an important part of housekeeping. This job should be monitored by supervisors on a rotating basis. Because of the possibility that waste might be used to hide contraband, it should not be allowed to gather near incoming provisions and apparatus. Chowdhury elaborates on secure waste disposal practises, by saying, “Avoid the use of waste bins around the hotel or restaurant if possible. Training of the team members ensures that they are all aware of the role and operation of hotels access control system”.

The recent spate of terrorist attacks on several established hotel brands across the globe has given rise to a heightened security focus. Landage says, “With the most recent attacks you no longer can judge a terrorist just by his appearance. Hence the housekeeping staff is informed to be vigilant during daily routines in guest rooms”.

Key lookout indicators for housekeeping staff to ensure security and safety:

  • Altered, disabled or removed fire alarms and smoke detectors
  • Unusual odours, such as cleaning solvents, fuel, chemical products, or evidence these chemicals were in the room, including containers (which may have had the labels removed), wrappers, labels, as well as stains in the sink, shower or tub.
  • Laboratory equipment usage in room.
  • Burn marks or discoloration on the walls, and floors.
  • Extended stays with little baggage or unpacked luggage
  • Not leaving the room for an extended period or leaving at an unusual time.
  • Hastily departing a room without checking out, leaving behind luggage or seemingly significant belongings.
  • Evidence of wiring or soldering, and presence of electronic components, electrical tape, batteries, soldering guns, and wires.
  • Guests noticed in the back area, pantries or fire exit.
  • Guests clicking pictures in non-access areas.
  • Unusual sound heard in the room
  • Excess of liquor bottles noticed in the room.
  • Unattended bag in the public area of the hotel for a long time.
  • Discrepancy in the number of adults in guest rooms
  • Guest visitors if any, who are staying or regularly visiting

Shashank Chaudhary, Executive Housekeeper, Sayaji Hotel, Pune reiterates the scope of housekeeping staff in acting against nefarious activities by saying, “Hotels are the easiest target because groups of unarmed people with a minimum level of security are located in a hotel.We have the rights, as the housekeeping staff, to ask if any unauthorized person is found walking on the floor, and not to open the guest room for security reasons without valid identification evidence or verifications with the front desk team. Should any suspected object, sound or movement be noticed in the room or premises, security should be notified for further investigation immediately”.

Since the housekeeping staff are almost always in the vicinity of guests, hence it is essential that the staff are well trained, coached, and audited in safety and security procedures, aligned with fire risks, bomb threats, natural disasters, and civil disturbances, among others. Chowdhury stresses the importance of appropriate training by saying, “One of our best practices is to discuss ‘Security Tip of the Day’ in daily briefings to create awareness of hotel’s safety policies and procedures amongst all associates in the department. Every fortnight, a mock drill is conducted by the security department on Guest floor corridors and Public Areas to identify any suspicious objects and to create awareness amongst associates working on shop floors thereby urging them to be more cautious and vigilant. As housekeeping associates have access to floor master keys, they play a critical role in preventing any kind of security threat. Associates are advised to direct all duplicate key requests from guests to the front desk reception, and not open any guest room using their master keys. Associates are also being trained and advised to raise alarm and alert security department if any suspicious objects in room are noticed.”

Security has become an important element of hospitality nowadays due to global technological advancements. Also, by efficiently promoting safety and security measures, the hotels can attain their pre-determined objective of guest satisfaction, when the guests feel that they are at home. Echoing the same Nityanand Shrivastava, Executive Housekeeper at Crowne Plaza Pune City Centre says “It has now become imperative for all the housekeeping staff to have adequate knowledge and to be involved in the analysis and managing of all risks in such a way as to reduce the threat to hotel guests and hotel assets.” The hotel can also build and increase their guest list, if they focus on providing world-class security to the guests during their stay, via their holistically trained housekeeping staff.

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