From luxury hotels to budget chains, the hospitality sector across the country is increasingly investing in technology solutions to ensure safety and security of guests, data and property By Sudipta Dev
Technology has been increasingly playing an important role in various aspects of hotel operations, including the critical function of security. The Indian hospitality sector has witnessed significant changes in the last seven-eight years with the adoption of many technology solutions which gives teeth to physical security. After the 26/11 attacks the overall security was beefed up in hotels across the country. It is no more just a man guarding the hotel premises, but a mix of manpower and technology deployment being extensively used by the hospitality sector. “Guarding is one part, there is also extensive deployment of electronic and CCTV solutions. Hotels have made a lot of CAPEX investment to upgrade their security systems to be at a situation where they are in a better position to encounter any threats,” says Rajat Khurana, director, business services, TOPSGRUP, a leading security services company in India. These range from the ubiquitous boom barrier and bollards with X-rays to IP based CCTV cameras and sophisticated video analytics.
There are certain challenges of course that hoteliers face. The most important is the fact that technology becomes obsolete very fast and constant upgradation is a costly affair. Harish Chandra, GM – information technology, Sarovar Hotels rues that while India provides world class technology across the globe, many times hotels in India are unable to invest in the best of technology due to the high cost of technology upgradation. “Cutting-edge technology in hospitality domain can trigger a sharp competitive edge at all levels. Recent years have seen a voracious demand for guest safety and privacy. These are most important factors,” he says.
AccorHotels which manages the joint property of a five-star hotel (Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre) and a world-class MICE facility (Hyderabad International Convention Centre), has to address the security preparations need of two different scenarios. “While the hotel has technological measures like key-card access to floors and 24×7 monitoring of guest and employee areas via an integrated CCTV system, at the convention centre due to the high-inflow of delegates, automated scanners and checking systems are in place to assist with smooth crowd flow,” mentions TV Madhupal, senior director, talent & culture, Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre.
Hotels are one of the most vulnerable targets of cyber criminals. It has become imperative for properties, across all categories, to be vigilant about securing guest sensitive information and privacy. Chandra informs that most of the hotels use PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Certification) complaint softwares to secure guest personal information and credit card details. “We work only with partners who demonstrate the highest level of security and global standards. Thus, our online reservation module is powered by Hotel Commerce Solutions who are the official re-sellers of Sabre Hospitality Solutions (globally powering over 17000 hotels),” he states, adding that the online reservation path is completely secure and PCI compliant thus protecting the personal information of the guests.
At Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre and HICC, the entire property is compliant to PCI-DSS norms – guest data when handling card transactions are secured at the highest standards. “The IT team ensures that systems are in place to prevent misuse, compromise or data-theft via any computing or mobile device from the property through a robust firewall and cyber-security mechanism that is regularly audited and updated,” states Madhupal.
It has been observed that the guest’s hotel selection criterion weighs on the availability of Wi-Fi than other amenities. “When we talk about the technology demands in hospitality segment, it is our goal to provide secured and seamless solution with ease of use and stability. In addition, the growing trend for BYOD ready network at hotels and resorts is pushing hoteliers to offer instant Wi-Fi access on guests’ check-in,” says Samiksh Aggarwal, AVP, sales, Data Networks, Sterlite tech –Elitecore. He points out that with the increasing demand for internet access, hotel network should be build to accommodate maximum Wi-Fi devices expected to be carried by guests; segregate the traffic into trusted and non-trusted traffic to prevent malicious activities and maintain usage log as per government norms.
Bouquet of services
Often implementation of security solutions is not a matter of choice. International brands operating across the country have a mandate coming from their global headquarters about security arrangements across their properties. “Most Tier II & Tier III cities have big chains who have all these equipments, but budget hotels are not always up to the mark, as security solution provider to them, whenever we are called by them we do a complete due diligence and do a run down of the survey. We propose all the solutions to the hotels, but ultimately implementation is left to them depending on their budget and CAPEX requirements or the investments they are ready to make,” says Khurana. He reminds that the owner driven smaller hotels face a problem, but even they are ready to invest at least 60-70 per cent of what the big brands put in security measures. “We offer them a bouquet of services,” affirms Khurana.
India is on the verge of a major consolidation and expansion of hotel rooms, and a large number of these will be in the budget sector. Dolphin RFID has a strong focus on being a partner of choice for meeting the basic security and safety requirements of budget hotels and partnering with the high-end star hotels for state-of-the- arts RFID systems to help them improve their bottom line. “Dolphin RFID Locking System is an all-encompassing system which caters for the smallest of the hotels to the largest and consists of – other than the locks – integrated elevator control systems, integrated energy management system for the rooms and room electronic safes,” states Commodore S K Sawhney, president & CEO, Dolphin RFID.
Apart from hotel locks, Dolphin RFID provides a full suite of state-of-the-art RFID system to manage guest recognition systems, hotel assets, laundry systems, android based maintenance systems and POS systems. “For instance, for a resort, Dolphin’s One Card RFID System permits the key card (in the form of a card/ silicon band) manage the hotel lock, F&B, laundry and spa/ gymnasium lockers. With all activities being managed through a single card/ band, the huge benefits to the hotel are evident,” mentions Commodore SK Sawhney. The company will be introducing RFID locks for apartments/ hotels using Bluetooth technology as there is a growing demand for it in the market. Chandra believes that budget hotels can implement most technology enabled solutions by keeping it simple and without compromising on the security aspect. He advises installation of basic security gadgets as defined by local laws in terms of having or not having X Ray machine; keeping CCTV footage for one month; and using gateway to secure Wi-Fi services and keep guest browsing logs.
On account of increasing CAPEX and OPEX expenditure, the hospitality sector benefits from cloud based solution. Which, reminds Aggarwal, not only helps with saving CAPEX and OPEX, but also offers centralised management in terms of IT infrastructure and resource, better performance, bandwidth and revenue optimisation. “Considering the current Indian market, the approach and interest is gradually increasing because the cloud based solution is mostly suitable for chain of hotels or hotspots, whereas single or small subscriber network can be still catered by box based solutions. Nevertheless, it depends on the type of segment, requirements of the hotel chain and network topology,” affirms Aggarwal.
In the future some hotels are planning to integrate electronic door latch with IP phone, IPTV or with guest smart phone or tablet. According to Chandra, the guest would be encouraged to download hotel application. “This application can be help women traveller to check who is knocking the door directly on their electronic communication gadgets or on hotel provided I-pads or tablets. With one touch guest room door latch can also be opened using combination of integrated CCTV, door latch and hotel mobile application,” he says, adding that this will ensure that only known or hotel service staff (rooms service/ housekeeping, etc) are provided entry and strangers are restricted. Chandra points out that though this is just a novel idea, new hotel can use this idea to secure guest in the initial planning stage. Existing hotels may face challenge to install camera on door lock due to design, cabling and cost related challenges.
Leading hotels have realised that they have to go deep into various aspects of technology, like video analytics. It is a software that needs to be installed at the backend where CCTVs are capturing the feed. “It can recognise the according to criteria, e.g. how many people wearing white shirt entering the hotel on a particular date, or how many people entering the hotel between 10 am to 12 pm wearing a cap,” says Khurana. Facial recognition is a part of it. TOPSGRUP has a centralised control room in Mumbai where it gets feeds from across the country.
Madhupal believes that the focus lately seems to be on swift and less-intrusive scan procedures – modern systems are getting better and better at scanning with minimal human involvement in the form of pat-downs. “They are quite precise when it comes to scanning illegal or safety-compromising contraband, allowing the security personnel to carry their procedures with minimal inconvenience for guests,” he says, adding that a few examples in this regard would be Automated Under-Vehicle scanners and Explosive Vapour Detectors.
Dhanraj Chavan, chief security manager, The Orchid, Mumbai avers that keeping in mind the current trends now the emphasis is on the intelligence rather than physical presence of security. “There is a significant change observed in this space after the up-gradation of processes at the local authorities’ level, emerging use of bollards, electronic gate crash system, seamless 3D scanners and a rapid development observed in the field of baggage scanners,” mentions Chavan.
Hotels need to partner with an experienced physical security provider, and ensure that the entire staff understands the need to keep security top of mind – always. “Fast paced changes and significant improvements in physical security system technologies are clearly evident in the physical security field. Analog systems are being converted to or getting replaced by digital systems with internet protocol. These systems now enable superior and advanced imagery, recognition and storage,” says Hanumant Arja, safety and security manager, Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport. He reminds that software now enables cameras to detect incidents and incident patterns. The systems can alert system monitors of actual or impending security breaches through the detection of “patterns” that signify a security incident. “Physical security systems are being “integrated” so that access control systems, alarms and cameras are coordinated. For example when an access control device such as an exit door is breached, a camera will be activated to focus on the event. The result is more efficient use of installed systems in that identification and response to potential and actual problems is enhanced,” states Arja.
Schneider Electric provides intelligent hotel security that is more proactive and easier to use. “Our solutions lower training time from days to hours,” says Thanik B, director – Segment Marketing and Business Development, Schneider Electric India. The security is integrated with other building systems to create a single dashboard with real-time monitoring and instant fault notification and escalation. Thanik B informs that advanced analytics give a hotel-wide view that includes people, property, data, assets, power, heating, cooling and the network environment. “These tools permit a more expedient and effective response to security threats and better ability to maintain business continuity,” he adds.
Best practice implementation
Best practice implementations at most hotels comprise a combination of both technology and physical security. At Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre & HICC to ensure timely and orderly alerting and evacuation procedures are followed in case a situation arises, there is a quick-response initiative called the Emergency Response Team (ERT) – a team of individuals with very specific roles and responsibilities to action in this scenario, has been implemented at the property. Simulations of various scenarios are carried out at a regular frequency, testing the response mechanism and duration of actions carried out, to further analyse and improve for real-life scenarios.
The Orchid, Mumbai focuses on effective database management, seamless transfer of critical information with the help of new technologies, floor access control, and having hi-tech CCTV coverage in and around the property. Safety of the single lady travellers-a dedicated wing has been assigned for them where a lady security guard is stationed 24×7. New trends in fire safety are used which enables detection of exact location. “The proximity to the airport has both pros and cons as this area is always under scanner. We have seamless data sharing and support from local authorities which enables us to elevate our internal security systems,” says Chavan, adding that this can be done in coordination with vendors, suppliers, emergency services, neighbouring hotels, local authorities and IHG’s crisis management control room.