Privacy Over Convenience; DND Policies Change in Hotel Industry.
Eight months after the horrific Mandalay Bay shooting, hotels aim to keep the focus on safety and security while delicately balancing it with the privacy they offer their guests. Hotels continue to face difficult decisions to put the 11 minutes in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead behind them. Earlier this year Disney and Hilton announced a change to their DND policies as a response. Two hard-nosed hotel security directors from New York City take a varying approach to this change in order to avoid the unthinkable.
"Hotels are an open environment, it's hospitality, it's not a prison;" says David Hamerman, security director at a prominent midtown hotel. He started his security career at the iconic Waldorf Astoria and has spent the last 18 years in the industry. His responsibilities are more than just what guest may think of when they consider hotel security. His job is to maintain the balance between safety and practicality, security and privacy. He is, however, a realist. "I think it's overdone as a response to one incident," he says when describing the change in DND policies after the Mandalay Bay shooting. Empowering hotel employees to enter a guest room at least once within any 24-hour period helps to deter criminal activity, "but it's not the answer," he says. "At some point, we are going to have to put metal detectors at the doors," he continues. He recognizes this would certainly create a level of safety equal to the level of inconvenience to travelers. Guest would choose to stay at other hotels to avoid being patted down or go through an inspection process like TSA but "it's just a matter of time," Hamerman says.
The change in Disney's and Hilton's policy of entering a room at least once every 24 hours should come as no surprise. Hoteliers have had this ability all along to perform routine maintenance, cleaning and safety inspections. The ‘DND', ‘Privacy' or ‘In-Room' sign is merely a communication tool to allow guest privacy and comfort and not a legal DO NOT ENTER notice.
"Safety outweighs the guest service piece," says Joseph Dorey, a retired corrections officer that now heads the Security Department at one of New York's landmark Central Park hotels. His rule of thumb is that if it doesn't make common sense, it should raise a red flag. He has taken lessons learned by the staff at Mandalay Bay and incorporated them into his daily routine. Although his hotel has not enacted a change in DND policies, he has the authority to enforce the letter of the law when he deems necessary. "During high profile events I can make a choice, or enact a 24-hour policy," he says. This gives his staff a sense of empowerment when dealing with safety or security concerns and allows them to be vigilant without interfering with a guest's privacy. "If something doesn't feel right, tell someone," is what he preaches to his staff. He recognizes that his security team cannot enter each room or keep an eye on the entire property at all times. For this he employees the assistance of his housekeeping and room service teams to be his eyes and ears. Whenever they enter a guest room or guest area, they are looking for anything that may seem out of sorts or worth taking another look. Dorey even rewards these actions by recognizing employees who report suspicious activity as a ‘Safety Hero’.
The key to due diligence is communication. Hamerman and Dorey agree that talking to and listening to their staff is the essence of keeping a safe hotel. Their staff is the eyes and ears of any good director and taking their suggestions and inquiries serious leads to better security of their properties.
Support for hotel security departments, especially in New York City, has changed over the last five years. More companies are placing a larger emphasis on the training and the development of their safety teams as well as their employees as a whole. Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt, all have programs dedicated to training their staff in safety measures from evacuations, live shooter scenarios, sex trafficking, drug use and terrorism. A new focus on the communication of DND signs has been noted across the industry in reaction to the events of October 2017.
In the end, Hamerman says: "Security (of hotels) should be presence and procedure without being overbearing." Security directors in the hospitality sector have the added burden to balance guest satisfaction with guest safety. Sometimes these two needs blend into each other when a guest needs to feel safe in order to enjoy their stay.