Keeping your hotel safe and secure

By Marni Andrews

It took a Regina broomball tournament a few months ago for GM Ryan Urzada to fully realize that the Saflok RT Lock system installed a year earlier was a very good investment. Since the teams knew each other, and they were staying at the 200-room Travelodge Hotel & Conference Centre Regina for a full week, it wasn’t long before the practical jokes started. 

One room ended up with significant damage (approximately $1,200) and the guests claimed another team had done it. They went so far as to say that a guest had misrepresented himself by saying he was locked out of his room and that front desk staff had wrongly given him a key. 

Urzada was suspicious and knew that the radio-frequency identification (RFID) guestroom locks would tell the story of what had happened through a feature called Door Ajar. An audit of the guestroom lock provided 10 pages of openings over the course of the week. He knew that all four of the guests’ keys had been used and, on the night in question, that the door had been propped open from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m., which clearly left the room’s occupants culpable for the damage that had occurred. In addition, Urzada knew that no additional keys had been issued, nor had any staff keys been used during the time in question. 

“At that point, it was case closed,” he says. “They paid for the damage and we were done with it. The onus was on them to have closed the door.”

The most common reason hoteliers are making the switch to RFID is because the keycards don’t demagnetize, says Robert Sydor, vice-president business development, Kaba, which offers the ILCO and Saflok brands. 

“With RFID technology, front desk staff no longer have to deal with frustrated customers returning for replacement keycards. This means hotels can save valuable time and resources,” explains Sydor. 

“Definitively, the latest trend in guestroom locks is the application of RFID technology,” agrees Jean-Guy Groleau, national sales manager, Loc International Inc., which offers electronic door locks and in-room safes.

RFID is a fairly new trend but has gained widespread market acceptance due to its advanced security features and user friendliness, says William Oliver, president, North America for ASSA ABLOY Hospitality, which offers VingCard Elsafe products. He adds that it has replaced magstripe as the industry standard and has been mandated for new construction projects among some major hotel chains and groups. Recent advancements have increased the system reading speed by almost 50 per cent and enable RFID locks to read keycards from more than twice as far away. 

“RFID is rapidly becoming the global standard of technology,” says Steve Switzer, global product manager, Onity, which offers electronic locks, electronic safes and energy management systems to the hospitality industry. “Europe and Asia have been the leaders in adopting RFID technology but we are starting to see this trend develop in North America.”

“The more sophisticated HT RFID technology allows guests to take advantage of room access methods other than keycards. These include wristbands, key fobs and other portable devices.”

NFC—no lock hardware

One of the most exciting trends we’re seeing right now is the shift toward Near Field Communication (NFC), explains Oliver. NFC is a short-range wireless communication standard that facilitates the exchange of encrypted data between devices over approximately 10 cm. 

“Virtually all VingCard RFID locks come equipped with NFC functionality. We believe it will be commonplace in a few years.”

Design-forward hotels will be interested in the possibilities of a completely invisible door lock. VingCard’s new Essence technology eliminates all lock hardware by encasing electronic components inside the door itself, says Oliver. 

“In recent years we have made strides by minimizing the hardware and incorporating new technologies such as RFID and NFC, but visible card readers had remained on the door exterior, giving hotels a distinctly commercial feel in the hallway.”

Sydor of Kaba mentions a number of trends he is seeing in the industry. They include remote check-in options to bypass the front desk, RFID loyalty programs where member keycards can be used to access assigned rooms in any hotel worldwide within a chain, cellphone room keys with time-sensitive audible tones or an NFC chip that operates like a keycard, and self check-in kiosks where guests can receive their room key. 

“Tablet computing adds flexibility to hotel operations as keycards can be created anywhere in the hotel, allowing front desk personnel to move around to welcome guests individually,” says Sydor. “Messages can be sent to the locks and the locks can be managed from anywhere in the hotel. Additionally, energy management systems for room temperature and smart rooms customized to the tastes of the individual guest are becoming a popular feature in high-end guestrooms. Kaba along with our key partners can offer all of these services.”

Security cameras and safes

The 93-room Grande Colonial La Jolla in California recently changed their guestroom locking system to the VingCard RFID keycard system. According to GM Terrence Underwood, this has improved the guest experience compared to the older magnetic stripe system. They also updated in-room safes and upgraded surveillance cameras to ensure clearer resolution under different lighting conditions.

The Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort and Spa is another property that recently upgraded their security cameras to a digital system with better clarity, motion sensing and data storage that can be easily transmitted to the police. GM Kimberly Hughes says that this investment, in addition to an upgrade to the fire protection system and new Saflok RFID technology, can play an important role for guests in where they choose to stay.

“We believe that investment in guest security will be the deciding factor for guests in choosing hotels in the future,” says Hughes. “Are there processes in place to make sure that, day or night, I am safe and secure?” 

Still, no matter how high-tech a hotel’s security systems are, Hughes thinks that it is team member training that can make the ultimate difference for guest security. She cites her hotel’s policy of not giving guests access to their rooms if they have lost their key.

Unfortunately, they will have to return to the front desk to verify the room number and produce ID in order to get a new key, explains Hughes. This has been a tough message for the team with situations where a wife has decided to upgrade the room and changes rooms but the husband does not receive the message. He goes to the old room, the key doesn’t work. Without a strong policy in place, he may see the room attendant on the floor who recognizes him and may let him in to the old room now occupied by another guest. 

“Our team is a critical part of protecting our guests’ security and we take this responsibility very seriously,” Hughes said.

Another potential security issue is the in-room safe. According to Oliver of VingCard, the growing popularity of top-open safes such as Zenith by Elsafe is due to their ability to be placed inside drawers, enhancing security and eliminating guestroom clutter. The Zenith’s design is spacious enough for larger sized computers and tablets, and the top opening door improves visibility of personal belongings to reduce the frequency of guests forgetting valuables in the room. 

Ron Daniels, president and CEO, Millennium Lock, is the inventor and manufacturer of the Ultimate Lock. He claims that the five-time world’s strongest man has tried to break open his lock and could not. With the addition of the Liberty Lock technology, Daniels says the lock’s computer chip can be keyed to work in specific areas or floors to limit access. 

He gives the example of a janitor who may have access to Level 1 of a hotel. If he thinks his room key is a master and tries to use it on Level 2, for example, the Liberty Lock technology registers this and reports the attempt at the end of the day when the employee must turn in his key to management who can see where everyone was and when. 

As technology continues to evolve, intelligent systems will link directly with other electronic devices and systems, including hotel property management systems, building management systems and security monitoring, says Switzer of Onity. 

The real plus is that intelligent systems can pay for themselves within a few years due to energy savings and operational efficiency. They’ll also provide real-time management reports, room environment monitoring, demand response, HVAC trouble detection and predictive maintenance that all help with higher guest satisfaction levels, he adds. 

The future seems to be already here.

Parking safety crucial

“The parking lot is the first and last experience that the guest will have and safety procedures are designed to identify threats to personal safety as well as vehicle safety,” says Mary Sheridan, director of marketing and communications, Precise ParkLink Inc., which offers a 50-point check of parking facilities with their ParkSafe program. Their iPass system is a cloud-based subscriber system that registers guest vehicles upon arrival or pre-arrival. 

Parking safety encompasses the physical structure as well as the equipment used by the guest. Both the equipment and the physical lot represent an expense to hotel ownership. The revenues to maintain them are supposed to be offset by the parking guest, however it is often a delicate matter from the customer perspective, says Sheridan. State-of-the-art lighting, equipment and parking lot services can help to alleviate this issue. 

“The equipment must provide safe and easy access to your hotel,” she explains. “There is nothing worse than the gate arm not opening after numerous intercom attempts.”

The reality is that hotel parking can be as challenging for front desk staff as it is for hotel guests, conference attendees and visitors. ParkSmart’s integrated guest parking validation system (called SmartIssue) can help convert parking from a problem area into a source of revenue and convenience for guests. 

ParkSmart’s unattended pay and display devices operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing a combination of pay-for-use parking, validation for short-term visitors and seamless registration for hotel guests. Hotel guests register their vehicle by providing a license plate number when they check in. They can proceed directly to their room with no need to return to their vehicle to place a permit on the dash. 

“Since changing to ParkSmart’s wireless Pay & Display system and SmartIssue guest parking registration software, our revenues are up and our parking complaints are nearly non-existent,” said Ferdinando Miranda, who was general manager, Four Points Sheraton Toronto Airport, when the ParkSmart system was put in about eight years ago. “ParkSmart’s enforcement, collection and equipment maintenance has contributed to smooth parking operations for our hotel.”