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Indian hospitality industry in 2010: New security threats necessitate a strong business continuity framework

Monday, March 15, 2010, 12:30 Hrs  [IST]


The hospitality industry in India is likely to get a significant boost from the much awaited Commonwealth Games 2010, scheduled in October this year. The 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and the recent global economic crisis kept foreign travellers at bay limiting the tourist arrivals in India to around four million in 2009.

Besides this, the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL 3) in India will lead to a boom in Indian tourism sector. With this anticipated increase in tourism there is bound to be a rapid expansion in the hospitality industry projects with current business players exploring new geographies and business models and the new players trying to get into this ever growing market.

However, the current threat landscape could prove to be a major road block for the ambitious growth plans of India’s hospitality industry. New age threats are no longer restricted to the conventional crises like power failure, fire, employee unrest but have evolved into more complex and detrimental events such as pandemic outbreak, cyber terrorism and corporate espionage among others.

Creating the ‘perfect’ guest experience
The Indian hospitality industry prides itself with its ability to provide a ‘feel at home’ experience to its guests making sure that they feel safe and protected when they are out of the comfort and safety of their own home. To create such an experience, hotels heavily depend upon its three pronged support system comprising its management and support staff who continuously attend to the guest’s needs; the security personnel and safety arrangements which ensure guest’s security; and its vendors and suppliers who provide the products and services for the hotel’s service offerings.

Today every hotel must consider all possible threat scenarios to its three pillars when designing and implementing a business continuity management framework.

The management and support staff forms a critical component of a hotel’s success as they are the first touch point to continuously ensure that all the needs of the guest are being fulfilled. Non-availability of staff could lead to insufficient or no service to its guests causing customer dissatisfaction and negatively affecting the hotel’s reputation.

Worker/employee strikes still remain one of the most common reasons for mass absenteeism in the hospitality industry. Contract employees form a major part of the workforce and disputes between the worker union and management on wage and employee benefits are recurrent.

Tackling operational roadblocks
Other serious and dangerous threats that lead to mass absenteeism apart from worker strikes include pandemic outbreaks and transportation disruption. The possibility of worker strikes cannot be completely eliminated, however, with proactive intelligence, effective industrial relations management (IRM) and a structured Strike Response Plan (SRP), the impact caused by the strike could be mitigated to a large extent.

As the hospitality industry is operational 24/7, Business Continuity managers need to use the ‘shift work’ to their advantage when planning for a transportation disruption. Likewise, in case of a pandemic outbreak that is a mass affect phenomenon, only precautionary measures can be taken to ensure hygienic conditions at the work place along with continuous awareness on Do’s and Dont’s within the organisation.

A guest needs to be treated with utmost respect from the moment he enters the hotel’s lobby till he gets into his vehicle and leaves the premises. Asking the guests to pass through metal detectors and stringent security checks defies the Indian hospitality philosophy of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ that literally means treating every guest like God and serving him well. However, with hotels becoming soft targets for terrorists, hotels are left with no choice but to implement stringent security arrangements to ensure safety of its guests. The challenge really is not to overwhelm its guests with security over-deployment.

Gearing Up
To prepare a hotel against terrorist threats, continuity planners should conduct a thorough security risk assessment to identify potential security loopholes and implement adequate mitigating controls forming the first level of defence.

A thoroughly deliberated Incident/Emergency response mechanism ensures early detection of threats, enabling prompt and structured escalation helping the authorities to respond in time and control the threat before it turns into a crisis.

With critical services like facility management, information technology being outsourced and dependence upon vendors for supply of critical commodities, disruption in the supply chain, service provider conflicts could prove disastrous affecting the continuity of service and impacting the hotels brand image.

Business continuity planners in their risk assessment should identify single points of failure such as single service provider providing an essential service or a single vendor supplying an essential commodity. Depending upon the level of risk exposure, the management should explore the option of roping in multiple service providers/vendors for essential services/commodities. This shall mitigate the risk and ensure the essential service/commodity is available in case of one of the providers fail to deliver.

In addition to multiple vendor/supplier arrangements the contract with each vendor/supplier should mandate them to have a well defined and tested business continuity plan. While testing its own business continuity plan, the hotel should involve its vendors/suppliers thereby testing the interoperability of their plans.

A separate study of the supply chain should be carried out to understand the points of failure including transportation disruptions, warehousing risks and unsafe routes.

Having identified security risks such as mass absenteeism, terrorism and vendor/supplier failure, the continuity planners should track the entire Business Continuity life cycle thereby designing and documenting the contingency plans, implementing the identified controls, administering regular training and awareness sessions and auditing the arrangements.

The author of this article is Manoj Ajgaonkar, Consultant, Business Continuity Management, Mahindra Special Services Group. He can be reached at

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