How to Train Staff to Address Security Issues, With Mac Segal


In a 24/7 business, hotels must remain vigil to deal with guest issues and concerns. But how do staff distinguish between real problems and the innocuous? And how should they be properly handled? In this episode, Mac Segal, CEO of AHNA Consulting group, chats with host Robin Trimingham about the best ways hoteliers can train their staff to recognize potential on-site security threats and methods to resolve them.






Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Mac: It’s all about training. If my team, if my concierge, bellboy, receptionist, back of house, front of house, if they are not trained in what we call suspicious behavior identification, they are my eyes and ears. And here is they can figure out, Hey, is this person a problem, whether they’re authorized or not, but is this person on the property acting in a suspicious manner that maybe I need to let somebody know or not? And I think that’s the real question and that’s the real solution. It’s understanding what it is we’re looking for rather than some blanket procedure or process that’s going to stop certain individuals from coming into a property.


Robin: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine with weekly thought provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators.


Robin: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier Podcast brought to you by Hotels magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham, and my guest today is Max Segal, founder and CEO of AHNA Consulting Group. Today, we’re discussing strategies for addressing top hotel security concerns.


Robin: For the last 15 years, GroupeGM has been a leader in the luxury cosmetic amenities industry. The group proposes a 360 solution from manufacturing to distribution. With over 40 international brands in its worldwide distribution network, GroupeGM offers different shapes and sizes of eco friendly products in hotels all over the world. Discover more on


Robin: Welcome Mac.


Mac: Hi, Robyn. Thank you so much for having me.


Robin: I think this is going to be quite an interesting discussion because, of course, lately cyber security, it gets all the hype, all the news, and it doesn’t really matter what industry we’re talking about. But it goes without saying that hoteliers face a whole range of security issues that perhaps they’d rather not talk about. So today, let’s chat about some of these other issues and try to offer some ideas regarding steps that people can take, particularly if you’re a sole proprietor or maybe a boutique brand that doesn’t have the budget of a national chain to start off here. At its core, obviously, a hotel is a 24 hour operation that really has to welcome everyone. But let’s face it, not everybody who enters the property is an authorized visitor, and it can be really hard to know exactly who or even how many people are on the property at any given time. How can hotels manage this situation, in your opinion?


Mac: I think at the base of everything we’re going to discuss, the first principle of security is everything we do has to be risk based. So when we say unauthorized people and how many people and who should be allowed in? The real question is what is the threat or the risk we’re trying to mitigate? What’s the problem? Once we started at that point, we need to ask ourselves, I’m a small, sole proprietor property out in a rural area. What’s the risk of somebody who’s not a guest coming into my property if I’m in the Las Vegas strip? I have to look at that different. If I’m a high end property where they’re politicians or celebrities coming to stay, I have to look at that different. So when it comes to hotel security, there’s no one size fits all. There’s no blanket formula that works for every property. You have to look at each one individually. Having said that, the term authorized guest to authorized person is tricky because the guest has a room super. He’s paying for his room. But what happens if I just want to come in and go to the lobby bar? Because this hotel has a great bar and live music on Friday nights? Am I authorized? I’m authorized to go to the bar.I’m just not authorized to go to the room floor.


Mac: So we have to understand what it is we’re mitigating. Now, hiring hotels often have security personnel by the lift lobby asking to see a key before they’ll even allow you in the elevators. Or they have key card readers in the elevators. For me, and I’m going to say this a lot over the next few minutes or 30 minutes. It’s all about training. If my team, if my concierge, bellboy, receptionist, back of house, front of house, if they aren’t trained in what we call suspicious behavior identification, then they, are my eyes and ears. They can figure out, hey, is this person the problem, whether they’re authorized or not, but is this person on the property acting in a suspicious manner that maybe I need to let somebody know or not? And I think that’s the real question and that’s the real solution. It’s understanding what it is we’re looking for rather than some blanket procedure or process that’s going to stop certain individuals from coming into a property.


Robin: You make a very interesting point because what you’re really saying is this is essentially a know your customer situation and different hotels will naturally have different kinds of customers. You mentioned key cards. I’m always curious about this because in the elevator I find from a guest perspective, they’re as good as they are bad, because as much as you’re supposed to just be able to swipe the darn thing and go up to your room. I’ve had so many experiences personally where I’m standing there in the elevator, doors are closed and nothing’s happening. Do you think some properties over rely on that being the be all and end all answer?


Mac: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more and further than the fact that sometimes they don’t work. I’ve been in many high end properties, five star properties all over the world where one keycard accessed all the floors. So I’m on the first floor, but if I swipe my card, everybody else is there. That absolutely shouldn’t happen. But it does. Well, we need to understand that all the technologies or tools, what we need is human security enabled by technology, not technology enabled by human beings. That doesn’t work, and it’s been proven not to work. We do what’s called security theater. So we have all this tech and these guys in uniforms and it looks very cool. But there’s a massive difference, Robin, between feeling safe and being safe. It is not the same thing at all as many incidents at hotels have proven that the measures haven’t really lived up to the expectation when tested.


Robin: I completely agree with you. And it can be challenging, I’m sure, when you’re in security to differentiate between. I’m going to call it harmless fun and something that’s full on inappropriate. How in earth do you approach training your staff to differentiate between the two where the standard of what’s acceptable in one hotel brand in one country might be completely different from somewhere else?


Mac: A complex question, to say the least. I can start at the end. The cultural differences between what’s appropriate behavior from one country to another are considerable. So what is absolutely unacceptable in one country is perfectly acceptable in another. So local knowledge and understanding local culture is key to non-physical conflict resolution when it comes to guests. So the starting point again in training is what are called soft skills is de-escalation. You’d never want to come to a guest and confront them unless it is an extreme situational violence or a clear theft. But if the guests are being rowdy in the bar or whatever, it’s much better to give them an alternative. So I’ll give you an example. I was at a property and there was a particularly loud group of people because in the summer in the bar they were disturbing everybody. And I was watching to see how I would unfold. And the food and beverage manager came out with a couple of bottles of champagne and invited them all to the gazebo in the garden with a couple of bottles of champagne on them. And they were like, Oh, hell yes. And off they went. And I thought, Wow, that was really handled right. He didn’t reprimand then. He didn’t consult them. He did not escalate the situation, but he found the solution. And again, it comes down to training. And if we don’t empower and teach our staff how to do this, then it’s going to get ugly really quickly. And hotels, because of the transient nature of their workforce, are often reticent to invest in training because they’re like, Well, these guys are here from the summer and then they go. However, the financial damage from one bad newspaper story or one bad lawsuit far outweighs the couple of thousand dollars you’ve got to spend to bring in an expert to train their team up in the skills that they need.


Robin: You just use the magic word in my mind, and that’s empowerment, because it’s one thing to have a staff that’s trained, okay, this is what’s allowed. This is not allowed. You have to enforce the rules, but you also have to be empowered to use some judgment and to come up with a creative but appropriate solution, don’t you?


Mac: Absolutely. It’s not enough to tell people “what” you have to tell them “why”. You can’t just say, “these are the rules, this is allowed, this is not allowed”. You have to explain to them why this is a problem and why this isn’t a problem. Once they understand the why, then they can have the authority to make a decision whether we need to act on this situation or we can just let it go and monitor it. So it’s all about education.


Robin: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. This next one is something that hoteliers would rather not admit happens at all. But this antisocial behavior, this inappropriate behavior can also involve the staff members themselves. And I’ve seen firsthand, because I have a hotel background, that some hotels would just repeatedly rather sweep this bad staff behavior under the rug rather than risk dealing with it, because that would mean they have to deal with a union shop because they disciplined somebody or they don’t think they could hire a suitable replacement for the person who’s holding to key a position for the way that they’re acting. What’s the real downside here to not handling these things properly?


Mac: The downside, I think it’s clear because if somebody who works for the hotel behaves inappropriately, overly aggressive or rude or shows bad judgment when dealing with guests, that’s eventually going to bite you in the behind because you’re going to get bad reviews on TripAdvisor or someone’s going to write complaints or tell their friends, hey, don’t go to their property, because whoever it was, the person at reception was really rude to me or really aggressive. I think that can get mitigated, but it has to start from the top down. So your post COVID is a massive shortage of person power in hospitality spaces in general. So hotels are finding themselves going to HR companies, things which they never did in the past. They used to recruit internally. Now it’s like, Hey, we have to go to external HR companies to find people to work. Often foreigners, they’re transiently from other countries coming in and working. It’s hard to find time and budget again to invest in education and training these people. But I heard that in a book by Simon Sinek, where he mentioned a guy at a hotel where he was who just always seemed he was a barista in the lobby. They always seem happy and because he is who he is. So Simon says to him, Why are you so positive? And he said, Well, because I love working. And he said, Well, why do you love working here? He said, well, because any time a manager or the GM or anybody passes me, they ask me how I’m doing. And they slap me on the back and say, hey, you’re doing great work. He said, I feel such a pride in such an ownership coming to this property that I want to represent it in the best way possible. You don’t get anywhere with a stick with your team by threatening them. It never works. You have to make them feel proud of what they do and where they do it. And if they feel that, then the tendency to act inappropriately or be rude to a guest, I think it is minimized.


Robin: Yeah, I think you’re right. When management notices how people are behaving on staff and rewards good behavior, I agree that that can be very impactful. So when things are not going so well, how or should HR and security sort of work together to approach addressing or correcting staff behavior?


Mac: Firstly, there has to be a kind of protocol. At what point do you need to involve security? Because the minute there’s a security presents at a discussion, you’re immediately elevating the level of tension. It’s like, why security? I think I’m going to do something. I think I’m going to think I’m crazy. So just by the presence and if the security person is there where they are and where are they standing, are they seated or they’re next to the person or they’re across the table from the person? A few weeks ago, I was in an airplane. I was in the front row. The team caught somebody smoking in the toilets. So they took him out. And the guys that were confronting him, asking for his passport, etc., because they’re going to ban him for future flights. He was getting quite obstreperous. And I was sitting there and I was with somebody I know next to me who said to me, Why didn’t you stand up? You’re the security guy. Why didn’t you stand up and help them? And I said, well, I’m not a small guy. And if I stand up, the guy in court is just going to get more stressed on the aircraft. The last thing we want to do is elevate the circle of violence. I’m staying. I’m watching. If he gets physical. Yeah, I’ll get up and do what we have to do. But until such time, I’m going to stay seated because by me standing up, I’m a threat. So if we’re disciplining you and I’ve got a security guy in a suit standing behind you with his arms folded, well, that’s probably not going to help. It needs to be done in coordination and understanding. Security is like the last people who need to get involved. Disciplining staff.


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Robin: Let’s have this conversation from the other end and talk about protecting employee safety while they’re working for you.


Mac: So we have a duty of care to everyone who works for us, which is why even when you speak about things like I hate the term active shooter, I think it’s a misnomer, right? What is he when he stops shooting a previously active shooter? I don’t know what you call it, but we call it an active threat. Right. But in any active threat situation, like when we teach this, you’re saying to the staff, you have a duty of care to yourself? Yes, to the guest. But you’re not the captain of the ship. Right. You need to protect yourself. We need to educate our staff. If it’s fire, if it’s some form of violence, they need to know how to respond. If there’s a suspected domestic in a room, we can’t send an 18 year old receptionist by themselves up to go and see what’s going on. Because we don’t know the. That’s why you have security. Yeah, you probably do want someone from hotel management, not just security, because security, if they’re not well-trained, will escalate the situation. Right. But you want both. You never want to send one person in by themselves into any situation, anything that could become confrontational. Two, you can use things like video, right? Whether they body cams, phone cams, the same as when you open a hotel, safe that’s locked. You want this all recorded so that if it goes bad and there’s a lawsuit, you can say, hey, we did everything by the book. We were speaking calmly. It was the guest who escalated this. We were not aggressive, we did not threaten, etc.. You need to cover yourselves because guests are very quick to take staff to task and say they went, okay, They stole my watch, they did this, they did that, and we shouldn’t automatically take the side of the guest just because they’re the guest. Right? I’ll solve our internal customer. We need to kind of listen to them, too.


Robin: Yeah, I agree. You have to tread carefully when you’re wading into one of these tricky situations. Interestingly, just yesterday I read on the Internet that something like 70 hotels have actually had, get this, a mattress stolen from their property. I was astounded. I mean, that’s a heck of a long step up from maybe taking the shampoo or a bar of soap. So talk a little bit about theft at hotels. I mean, how big is the problem, really, and what kind of steps seem to be the most effective at curtailing this sort of behavior? Because it’s sort of tricky. The shampoo is there to be used, and depending on the brand, some brands just factor that in as something that is in the cost of every room, and you might as well take it with you because you’ve paid for it outright. Other brands might have a different approach. What in the world do we do?


Mac: Well, first problem is, is anybody who can steal a mattress? Well, hats off to you. You probably deserve it. So, you know. Good luck.


Robin: I don’t know where to start.


Mac: Yeah, exactly. A loss is a considerable loss center for hotels in the US. Yep. Go to places like Africa. It’s colossal. Theft of everything from copper wire, from the communication systems to guests’ cell phones, laptops, watches… To skimming at all the points of sale, cash sales, all these good stuff. It is billions per year to the hospitality industry, no question at all. So if a guest takes a dressing gown, right. Well, that’s okay. We can pull that credit card off. We have it. And we know they took the dressing down and we can fight about it if they want. However, there’s actually well, it’s a different question because the method of fraud, of using services, complaining about them to get refunds or saying, hey, no, we didn’t use the minibar when they did, and then getting refunds from the credit card companies. The only real way to combat petty theft within the hotel, whether it’s coming from internal or external, is a security presence. Cameras record after the fact what happened, so no camera’s there to stop the theft, to stop the gunman. They just watch. So just having a camera in the corridor isn’t going to stop that necessarily. And the thieves are good. They know what they do. They’re not stupid. They’re professional into what they do as well. But if you have a security team, have them patrol the room floors, occasionally, take a walk through the property, take a walk through the room floors, take them, walk through the fire escapes, ensure that your fire escape tools are ignored because that’s what a lot of the loss goes out of those fire escape doors. Right? They had an accomplice on the outside. Open the door, hand it off. So that way people like in Africa, well they search bags of employees when they leave the property. But the stuff has been passed off long time before the staff member is leaving. But to reduce theft other than, say, some. Make sure the room doors lock and all that good stuff is basically a security presence. It’s a very, very tough thing to prevent.


Robin: Yeah, it’s an interesting problem. You mentioned the word fraud. So can you give us a couple of the more I’m going to call them interesting things that you’re aware of in your line of work. I mean, obviously not naming any hotel brands.


Mac: Yeah, I’m going to stick with fraud. I’m going to try not to cross over into the wifi cyber realm. And there are many forms of fraud in a hotel, but the three major ones, which we’re running into post covid. So the whole contactless experience, check in, check out write. Card, not present transactions, which are very nice for safety and or expediency. However, there is no opportunity for us to verify who’s using the card. Ergo, we can have stolen credit cards being used and the hotel is very easy way to book a hotel online and the stolen credit card to see if that card’s being locked. It’s kind of anonymous, which leaves you with many false bookings. No shows because the thieves aren’t using these cards just to book hotels and whatever platform to see if the card works. You have people using stolen calls to check in if you don’t have an EMV terminal, in which case the credit card company is liable. But if you’re using an old style terminal, this is a problem that card’s stolen. It’s you the hotel who’s going to be refunding that money if that card is reported stolen. The other thing we run into is loyalty fraud. Is all the loyalty programs being hacked, points being stolen. And there’s not a big verification process around those programs. I can just log in with the stolen ID, use those points and book a room, and that really upsets guests when somebody discovers my 300,000 points just got swiped and used by somebody else that I built up over and I was holding out for my summer vacation. That’s a good way to lose a client and hotel is need to pay careful attention, putting in detection systems and machine learning, etc. to prevent these things happening.


Robin: So despite taking what I’m going to call reasonable precautions, some hotel properties do wind up involved in lawsuits regarding some of these things we’ve been talking about today. What’s your advice to hotels? How can they insulate themselves as best possible from liability associated with all kinds of security breaches?


Mac: The first thing, the most challenging thing is there’s no global hotel security standard. We now have the ISO 31030, but it’s a guideline. It’s not a standard. So there’s no standard to which the court of law can hold a hotel, which means it’s very subjective, which makes it tricky. The best advice I have is firstly have properly written routine and emergency procedures in which your staff are all trained and you ensure that these procedures are implemented right and ongoing. When something happens in a hotel. And I’ve been invited many times and expert witness after the attack on the Radisson Blu after the Vegas shooting. A court will say, Was there a reasonable reason to think that would happen? Was it reasonable to think that somebody would go up to the 32nd story, break a window and shoot across the room? If it was a reasonable assumption, well, then you should have taken measures to mitigate that, did you? It starts from that. But since a lot has happened at hotels, there are many scenarios that can happen. And if you can’t in a court of law show that you had personnel procedures and the technology necessary to mitigate those to a reasonable level, you’re going to have a problem. All right. So make sure that you have if it’s not a brand standard, a security brand standard from the operator. But make sure that you can show a written document saying these are procedures. This is what we did to mitigate. These were our emergency response procedures. We followed them. This was the result. But we did everything reasonable and we can prove that we did everything reasonable.


Robin: Yeah, I agree. I mean, there’s just no telling what somebody who’s staying on your property might spontaneously decide to get up to. And as much as you’re going to have proper training and making sure these things are all followed through in a professional manner, there’s just some things that you cannot anticipate that somebody would decide would be a good idea to do, and it has a disastrous result. Let’s end our discussion here by talking about what I think personally is very tricky issue. I went on a business trip to Chicago a couple of years ago. I stayed at a very highly respected name brand hotel, and outside the bar there were signs, there were stickers on the window speaking to the fact that this was a gun free zone. And I’m from a foreign country where we don’t really have firearms at all to speak of. And that was very, very unnerving because I’m suddenly realizing, oh, I’m so I’m standing in the middle of a gun zone and now I’m about to enter a gun free zone? I mean, what’s your take on all of this? And I’m sure it’s going to be your answer is going to be something different depending on where you are. Should hotel properties ever have staff with firearms or tasers? And what’s your advice to a small property that’s not got a big security team and feeling vulnerable?


Mac: One of the trickiest questions out there, it comes back to, I’m afraid, what we started the discussion, what is the threat? So why would the team member right a staff member need a firearm? To mitigate what threat? So the only time I’m really going to need a firearm is to stop somebody else with a firearm. That’s a fair discussion, a case to be made. But having my reception manager carrying his personal firearm, is that going to solve it? Is he qualified? Is he experienced in high stress situations to deal with that? And if he decides to save the day and he misses the suspect and he hits a civilian? Are we now liable because we told him to carry a firearm on property? There are countries like Israel where the threat level is high, where security personnel carry concealed firearms. But these are all fairly highly trained ex-military who go through a rigorous course and regularly go for retraining every three months so that if something happens, they are trained and capable to respond in a responsible manner. To have random people carrying firearms around the property is never a good idea. Never, ever a good idea, because you don’t know how that is going to end. You don’t know if the police are going to arrive and unfortunately shoot your reception manager because he’s holding a firearm and the police didn’t know that he wasn’t the bad guy and this goes down a rabbit hole. But I don’t think that if the threat to your property requires justifies armed personnel, you better make sure that they are super well trained consistently, not just in the use of firearm, but in situational analysis and threat analysis and depend on what they do. Otherwise, you’re in for a whole world of hurt.


Robin: I couldn’t agree with you more. Mac, thank you so much for your time today. This has been a very enlightening conversation. You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast brought to you by Hotels magazine. Join us again soon for more up to the minute insights and information specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry.


Robin: You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels Magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders.

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