Hotels Tap Tech for Loss Prevention

By Lin Grensing-Pophal, Contributing Editor | December 19, 2011

Hotels may have long considered theft a cost ofdoing business. But new technologies are becoming available that will help management curtail loss in all of its forms, from lost assets (for example, uniforms that mistakenly don’t come back from the cleaners), to mistakes in item counting (such as minibars and toiletries) to the unfortunate occurrences of guest or employee theft. From RFID linen/supplies tagging to inventory management; from automated minibar technology to video surveillance and door locking technology, hotels are finding new and innovative ways to protect their assets, and their guests.  

Tracking hotel assets

MGM Resorts International (www.mgmresorts.com) is known for providing impeccable service in luxury surroundings. While in the planning phases to open its 4,000-room ARIA Resort at CityCenter in Las Vegas (www.arialasvegas.com), employing 8,000 new employees and 125,000 uniforms, says Brigette Rhu, director of uniform control for ARIA, “We conducted an analysis to determine the latest and most efficient uniform inventory software available. After considering the range of options, they decided to go with a radio frequency identification system (RFID) that allows MGM Resorts to track and understand inventory quickly and effectively. “Providing outstanding service to our guests in Las Vegas is a 24/7 business,” says Rhu. “We needed a product that would accommodate the large amounts of inventory that we handled.”

Because they were opening a new resort, she says, they were able to purchase and install the technology from the beginning, making it a seamless process. Other hotels might need to update their uniform handling systems in bits and pieces, and as budget dollars become available.

It’s an innovative process. When inventory is received, chips are either pre-installed or sewn into them and inventory is entered into InvoTech’s GIMS system (www.invotech.com). Once entered, garments are assigned to employees and scanned to their profiles in GIMS. Soiled garments are dropped through a laundry chute and assigned to cleaners. Once returned from cleaners, the garments are scanned back to the employee slot. The system was implemented in December 2009, and has resulted in balanced inventory ever since, says Rhu.

InvoTech’s system now uses UHF-RFID technology; the ultra-high-frequency allows the tags to be read from a much greater distance with the larger read area allowing entire laundry carts of soiled uniforms and racks of clean uniforms to be processed automatically when going to and from the laundry. In addition to the loss prevention benefits of the technology, the savings in manual labor can have a very positive impact on the bottom line.  

Physical security solutions

While hotels are, of course, interested in protecting their material assets, they are also very concerned about ensuring the safety of their guests. Technology can provide an aid here as well.

Terry McMullen is director of operations at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge (www.bayhill.com) in Orlando, where celebrity guests are not uncommon. Security in such a scenario can become a greater than usual challenge. The hotel recently went from a “very antiquated” locking system that was 15-20 years old, to RFID-enabled locking technology from Saflok (www.saflok.com) that offers several layers of security, says McMullen. The new system allows the facility to monitor and audit a lock to determine when the room was entered and by whom. Information is available historically. “We can go back and look at hundreds and hundreds of entries for that lock,” says McMullen.  In addition to locking mechanisms, security cameras provide “eyes in many places.” Sophisticated camera systems have resulted in the recovery of several things over the past 4-5 years, he says. “It allows us to take our security force and multiply it several times over, just by having one system.”

Anthony Roman is a security expert and principal of Roman and Associates (www.romansearch.com) in Lynbrook, N.Y. Layered security is an important concept in the security world, says Roman. It starts with a layer of defense at the perimeter of a hotel or resort, which might involve some type of barrier, wall or fence. Then, he says, “There might be choke-points at which traffic or pedestrian traffic enters the resort and a combination of technology and security personnel at those choke-points.”

Emerging technology takes these measures to a higher level, using intelligent software for example in security cameras, to provide detailed surveillance information. For example, Roman says resorts that have ocean perimeters that may be subject to pirate invasion, such as at a resort in Kenya where two guests were kidnapped, could take advantage of this technology to view up to 8 kilometers out and pick up different types of boats based on how fast they’re traveling. Alarms would alert security personnel and authorities so that action could immediately be taken. “Infrared, smart technology can pierce the darkest, foggiest night and the heaviest rain,” he says.

Ultimately, though, notes Roman, regardless of the sophistication of the technology—and emerging technology is certainly sophisticated—“technology is really of diminished use if there is no organized, administrative management in addition to security management of the data that the software provides. Data management is the critical element in reducing the frequency of crime, accidents and incidents.”

Good technology in the hands of skilled administrators and managers who have put well-developed and well-communicated processes in place is what really makes the difference in terms of loss prevention for hotels. 

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