With continued threats to tourists as shown in the recent Tunisia museum and beach attacks, the hotel industry, like many other sectors in the hospitality industry, has had to step up its safety and security measures. Marriott International Inc.’s Director of Global Safety & Security, Danny Chan talked about Marriott’s approach at a recent seminar on corporate security organised by the Risk and Insurance Management Association of Singapore.
The hospitality industry, and hotels in particular, straddle the challenging tasks of providing both a secure yet hospitable environment to guests.
It seems incongruous to have the comfort of a home away from home and yet put in place layers of screening, but having the right security and risk management measures in place is an absolute business necessity today and no longer merely a competitive advantage for a hotel, said Mr Chan.
As a premier hospitality group owning over 4,200 hotels – including the well-known Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance and Courtyard brands – and launching a new hotel almost every week, Marriott is all too aware of that.
How Marriott sees the world in colours
Marriott has faced challenges before, with a few regional examples being the 2008 incident at the Islamabad Marriott in Pakistan and the twin terrorist incidents at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta in 2009. Despite the visibility of these incidents, Mr Chan cautioned against any misperception that Marriott is in any way more at risk than any other hotel chain.
Why? Because if one goes to Islamabad, one will not find the presence of any other five-star international hotel chain other than Marriott. Thus, it is the very extensiveness of Marriott’s global footprint that its name shows up often, for it has dared to push boundaries in markets where others demur to venture.
In the same way government embassies have to exist in the toughest of places, there will still be demand for lodgings in such locations with the comfort that dignitaries and businessmen have come to associate with a five-star brand name.
“Here’s how we see the world in colours,” said Mr Chan, showing shades of red, orange, yellow – and ‘dark red’, he said only half-jokingly, referring to a location which Marriott is currently exploring.
In practice, Marriott has carved up all the hotels in the 79 territories it operates into colour zones, where each is attributed a different security classification, which means different layers and risk management measures. The redder the location, the more dangerous.
The bulk of Marriott’s insurance is captive, given that the size of its operations makes it cost-effective and brings tax benefits. It only transfers US$1 million out to purchase a rider for more “challenging” risks. “If Marriott’s insurance division was to be spun off into a separate company, it would be huge and comparable to some of the major international insurers today,” Mr Chan noted.
Mr Chan likened dealing with terrorists as a “cat and mouse game” – there is the constant change in tactics and security posture to deal with them, even as they change the way they operate.
During the 2008/9 incidents, the potential damage had been greatly reduced because of security measures already in place. The explosives-laden truck in Islamabad could not get past Marriott’s hefty hydraulic barrier on the ground, thus doing its damage from that distance, while a substantial amount of glass in Jakarta remained in one piece due to its protective window film that is a must for its hotels in higher-risk locations – this measure is critical in limiting fatalities and serious injuries in a blast, where shattering shards are more lethal than the shock waves.
Since then, security has been strengthened even more than before. Mr Chan notes that even with background screening of all staff, it is challenging, if not impossible to screen for ideological beliefs at the specific point of recruitment. For example, the Jakarta attacks were assisted by a florist who was not a Marriott employee, but had worked in stores in both hotels for years and was only radicalised some years after he started work. Ideological change can take as short a time as a few months, otherwise a simple method of compromise, blackmail and threats to family could also compel a person to act out of character on any day.
Thus in high-risk locations, everybody who enters the hotel needs to be checked all the time – be it butler or general manager.
Intelligence is key
While many companies can face a crisis at some point, it is how they react that determines how they recover from it – and it can, in fact, emerge better than before. According to an Oxford University study, companies with an effective crisis response saw their active share prices increase by about 7%, and conversely, those without saw their share prices dip by 15%.
Entering a Marriott hotel in Jakarta is akin to boarding a plane, but as Mr Chan pointed out, without the X-ray machines, no security-conscious MNC or government officials will stay in a hotel. And some of Marriott’s hotels are a real distance away, literally and figuratively from the guardhouse – it takes a lot before you actually enter the front doors of Islamabad Marriott. Beyond the security screening, is a lot of surveillance that you do not see.
Some of Marriott’s security measures are undertaken in collaboration with partners, with varying intensity depending on the location of each hotel. It uses official government sources of intelligence, private firms doing due diligence, open sources like the internet and social media and in-house security analysts it employs to peruse all the data. “Every profit-driven entity, no matter what kind of organisation, has limits in resources and budget when it comes to risk management, so relying on intelligence is a key priority. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you can never be everywhere, all the time,” said Mr Chan.
There is also the use of counter-surveillance, where Marriott employs people just to patrol and observe and engage the very local community in the hotel’s periphery – even recruiting street vendors who would know better than its staff if anything is amiss.
“There are also times when we don’t have a procedure in our crisis management bible, and we have to develop it from scratch,” he said, citing how companies had to start developing new capabilities, such as responses to radiological threats after 9/11.
Marriott also looks at other risks like Nat CAT, where disasters have been on the rise in recent times. In Asia, it works with the Earth Observatory of Singapore to do mapping and modelling, to keep tabs of potential regional natural catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
Making it harder to hit the target
Mr Chan acknowledged that pure bad luck is a factor – such as being located near another target entity, and most challenging of all is the fact that “if someone has targeted you, they will find a way to hit you” and it is impossible to find every way to block it. “What we do is essentially target hardening, to try to make it so difficult that the perpetrators give up and move on,” he said.
Nonetheless, Marriott does not only prepare for the “before” and “during” the incident phase, it also has to prepare for the harsh post-incident recovery as the “proverbial brown stuff will always hit the fan”. This ensures that Marriott will be able to respond quickly, and measures like having window film in public areas will make a critical difference in minimising casualties.
Mr Chan happened to be in his room in the Ritz-Carlton Jakarta when the 2009 attacks happened. His first reaction upon seeing body parts in the mayhem on the ground floor was that of pure anger. The former soldier has encountered deaths up close in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, where “we all understood the risks”, but he found it hard to accept losing civilians in a civilian setting.
“From that day on, we’ve been working very hard to ensure a similar incident never happens again. And this is the reason why I am doing my job,” he concluded.