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Security in travel and tourism

There is growing concern among travel risk management practitioners about how efforts aimed at mitigating Covid-19 related risk are exhausting health and safety management plans, budgets and initiatives. Andy Janes, Security Director at Intertek Cristal reports

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Preventing the spread of infection is, of course, an absolute necessity; however, as we progress toward economic revitalisation, it is critical to ensure that the more normative aspects of risk inherent to travel and tourism are not left unchecked. Sedentary water systems containing legionella, security vulnerabilities, sub-par hygiene regimes and lack of natural disaster preparedness are key areas of risk exposure. 

Effective management of security-related risk is arguably one of the most significant casualties resulting from the pandemic. This is of concern for several reasons.

Firstly, the Covid-related distraction from security risk management is a tragedy, given that standards across the hotel industry have been slowly improving over the past five years as a result of a tremendous amount of effort from hotels and other entities in travel and tourism.

Areas of concern

Top areas of concern since the terrorist attacks in Tunisia and Egypt have centred on emergency planning for terrorist-related activity and active shooter incidents. To a certain extent, these issues have overshadowed other, less serious security threats that hotels must also consider in their security planning, such as petty crime, insider threat, personal assault, cybercrime, child safeguarding, loss prevention and so on.

Secondly, there is concern that new mitigation strategies designed to control the risks associated with Covid-19 are being implemented rapidly and without full consideration of the outcomes of doing so. Crisis leaders within the hotel’s operational environment must consider the potential impact of such controls across all aspects of operations.

For example, we often hear of the opposition between fire and security management practices. Fire mitigation focuses largely on the ‘ease’ of evacuation during an emergency and, therefore, locked doors are not ideal. Within the security risk management framework, denial of access through securing access and egress is paramount. However, over time, the fire and security risk management fields have learned to coexist holistically.

So, what are the factors in which risk managers need to consider with regard to Covid-19 and its effects on pre-existing risk management controls?

To identify these subsequent risks which derive from Covid-19 control measures effectively, hoteliers and tour operators need to look at the effects of such controls and determine whether the measures implemented affect pre-established controls in a positive, or negative manner. Most security managers will now have the added task of identifying suspicious individuals because of the normalisation of face masks. The insider threat likelihood may also increase owing to the new working conditions or even the effects on salary and working hours as a result of restrictions and occupancy limitations.

Opportunist criminals thrive on identifying vulnerabilities. It is fair to say that they are very aware that many businesses have been forced to make significant alterations to their work processes and physical environments. From a physical standpoint, operational assets within a hotel may now be at risk of theft or damage owing to the lack of deterrence and detection that hotels naturally benefit from by having staff on the premises.

Other opportunistic criminals may exploit vulnerabilities in the cyber realm as more and more staff begin to work from home and hotels implement new technologies and systems, often without any training or infrastructure to protect them against cyber threat.

These issues remain a primary concern for hotel security operations. However, hotel management teams must also consider less obvious criminal activities that target hotels and vacation rentals, such as modern slavery and human trafficking. Continued development of security operations, personnel and training are important to ensuring staff are equipped to recognise and report suspicious activities and behaviours.

During this time of unprecedented strain on the hospitality sector, finances are extremely tight and security spending will not be a priority for most organisations. This has an impact on the progress that has been made over the previous years and, in some cases, halts or reverses that progress.

Remaining safe and secure

Security threats in all forms remain a constant, whether a spur of the moment dispute in the hotel bar or a serious violent incident, security threats can never be completely dismissed. As such, hotel management teams will be wise to maintain the integrity of their security operations.

In an environment where budgets do not allow for the state of the art equipment or large security teams, there are many things hotels can do to ensure they remain safe and secure and continue to provide a duty of care for guests and staff. Understanding what assets are currently in place and how best to maximise the effectiveness of those assets is crucial. Updating existing security plans, risk assessments, procedures and training staff on reporting systems and reaction procedures is a high impact, low cost process that will, at a minimum, maintain the facilities’ security operation through this period.

As new hazards and threats emerge with innovative risk mitigation strategies, come new vulnerabilities. Therefore, the need for risk management in all aspects of safety and security will be constant and should not be neglected.

Looking to the future, risks can also present an opportunity for businesses and should be exploited to address previously identified goals and objectives. The mindset should be of a proactive ethos. For example, hoteliers who are limited to 50 per cent operating capacity owing to government restrictions, should be considering whether now is a good time to install that fire sprinkler system or conduct renovation improvements to existing physical security systems.

The future success of security in hotels will heavily rely on hoteliers’ understanding of need. All too often, if a major incident has not occurred in the area, leadership teams fail to see the need for continued investment in security resources.

Having access to security-specific incident data would serve to identify key areas of vulnerability between regions and educate hoteliers of the importance of maintaining and supporting security operations in line with global best practices.

Image: Yurii Perepadia/123rf

Andy Janes, 27/11/2020
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