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Hotel security: high – but simple – technology

Although statistics on theft in hotels remains stable, there is increasing demand for efficient equipment. To monitor and protect access to rooms and other sensitive areas of a hotel, and ensure the safety of guests’ belongings, manufacturers and distributors have a double challenge. On the one hand, they must offer the most dissuasive equipment possible, and on the other, it must be easy to use.The technological innovations continue to move this sector that is undergoing an evolution, but no mistakes must be made in making choices, because while it will continue in the months ahead, its source is not necessarily what we expected.When it comes to the safety of belongings and people at a hotel, the race to innovate continues. It is part of a somewhat different context: “today, everyone wants everything online, that everything be connected, but what is the real interest?” asks Denys Leray of Minibar System, which also offers a choice of safes. Its company thus banked on offering a safe with a simple code, the “Smartbox” keeps the important options such as recording the last actions made, while eliminating those that may prove to be superfluous such as the laptop outlet inside the safe, which while they are not necessarily useless do imply an additional cost. The goal is clear: keep rates low without necessarily chipping away at the product’s effectiveness. “The safe offering is almost never billed except at certain properties in Southern Europe. It is not a profit maker for hotels,” he remarks. Thus, opting for a standard, but reliable, product is a widespread approach.Throughout the hotel sector the real change concerns the safe’s dimensions. Today, it absolutely must be able to hold a portable computer – the 21st century businessman’s inseparable companion. This increase in dimensions means less space in the closet. But some manufacturers believe they have figured out how to retaliate. SafePlace, for example, offers a model set into a drawer baptized “Tiara”. “In practice, guests almost never use drawers, so outfitting them with a top-opening safe makes it possible to optimize this space,” justifies Jean- Eric Martin, the company’s spokesperson. Space gain as well as aesthetic concerns preside over the conception of new safes. Dometic is thus preparing to commercialize ProSafe, a safe that is available in two sizes and above all that will be available in several colors and versions. “Hoteliers seek flexibility in order to integrate the safe into the room’s décor,” justifies Isabelle Caron, the brand’s sales director.Product maintenance is another important factor in the choice. A safe that doesn’t open when a guest has documents inside it and his check-out time is near is a source of great stress. “In these cases, nine times out of ten the person is simply furious,” explains Jean-Eric Martin. “This makes the task even more difficult for personnel desperately seeking a solution...” Whence the “Impact” range includes safes that take advantage of the famous biometric technology to simplify the user’s life. The guest uses his thumbprint to open the device. No more forgotten codes, demagnetized cards, etc. “What’s more, the safes have a selfdiagnosis system. If there is a problem, a number from 0 to 99 that makes it possible to precisely identify the possible scenarios is displayed.” Thus there is no more need to call the hot line, the solution to the problem may be found internally. This is not a luxury because often something jammed in the door, a slightly low or poorly positioned battery is enough to find oneself up against a door that remains obstinately closed. Whence the interest of emergency procedures. In this area, everyone has their own strategy: opening using a special electronic box, auxiliary code for all the safes on the same floor or even in the entire hotel, a mechanical unblocking system as a last recourse or, less common, downloading an algorithm from Internet to generate an alternative code. Once again the advantage lies in getting around the hot line. This is what Dometic has implemented with its REOS system. Hotelier-clients have a log-in and a password that allows them to resolve their problem by connecting to the brand’s site directly.But all the technology and ingenuity in the world cannot stop a motivated thief. “No mater how complex and sophisticated the system is, the human factor is significant,” reminds Denys Leray of Minibar System. “The specific training that we offer is an essential complement for optimizing the safe’s real efficiency in action”. As is remembering the thief who simply has personnel open the safe... after passing himself off as the room’s unhappy guest whose code is not working. Who could imagine that this vexed man in his boxers, who is so sure of himself, was not in his right? “In our training we recommend systematic identity checks,” answers Denys Leray. It is a fact: the inviolable safe doesn’t exist, especially when, as is the case in the hotel, it is necessary to set up a margin for emergency openings and greater ease of use... The hotelier’s real goal is not to achieve an illusory nil risk, but rather to make an infraction necessary in order for the thief to obtain what he is after. “When the safe has been objectively broken into, insurance can come into play,” outlines Michel Helygen of the company SafePlace.Agfraco’s innovation was to develop the clever concept of the safe. Its “Beach Boxes” are small boxes intended for beach resorts or hotel that have a swimming pool. They may be attached to the base of an umbrella and make it possible to protect wallet, watch, documents and anything else that the guest often leaves apprehensively on their chaise long when they go for a swim.But before getting to the safe, the thief must first thwart an initial device that alone may make all the difference: the door to the room. There are many innovations in this field. These play on both aesthetics and the operation of the tool. Onity thus presents its new lock “Advance” that shows significant progress in terms of design. “The entire mechanism is inside it leaving only the scanner, a cover plate and the handle. This is an ideal solution for luxury hotels in terms of aesthetics,” explains Philippe Giraud, the brand’s sales manager. First, the style is sleeker, elegant and minimal. The material also evolves in response to a new major concern: durable development. Onity thus perfected these famous boxes into which guests must insert their card in order to activate the room’s electricity. Today these are presented as “intelligent energy savers”. Philippe Giraud explains: “until now these boxes worked thanks to a simple contact. It was enough to slide any card into the reader (credit card or other) and the light stayed on. With the new system, a magnetic band allows the scanner to identify the card, it is impossible to trick it.” The advantage: reassurance that no electricity is consumed when the room is not occupied.Vingcard is no exception when it comes to hotel locks and offers its “Signature” series designed by the famous studio Vali & Vali. “We wanted to push the aesthetic concern to a new level,” remarks Christian Hénon of the company Assa Abloy that distributes the product. “Signature is available in different models designed by famous designers such as Norman Foster.” But innovations do not stop at the simple visual aspect. Internal innovations are in the form of RFID, a tool that is increasingly common worldwide. “It opens the door using a radio frequency identification chip. No need to insert the card, just pass it in front of the captor to open the door”. The RFID method is right where television was 25 years ago: in the middle of a battle between three standards with no certainty which will become the norm in the future. “Some manufacturers are putting everything into one standard. Vingcard, however, decided to create locks that are compatible with all three standards.” And what’s more, in addition to facilitating life for the client, RFID offers additional advantages: it makes it possible to verify the hours of personnel and identify guests at the hotel’s points of sale. “There is a future for this technology on other sectors in addition to upscale because it may be used with other devices besides a card, such as a bracelet, which is also practical for controlling access to spas and other wet areas”.Vingcard is already anticipating the future by stepping into the world of “Near Field Communication,” created by the Sony and Philips tandem, which was recently joined by Nokia and Samsung. It is a protocol for transmission by mobile telephone that is gaining ground worldwide. It is estimated that in eighteen months to three years the entire fleet of mobiles on the planet will have adopted NFC standards.When adapted to the hotel industry, guests will be able to remotely receive an encrypted combination that will be loaded onto the SIM chip of his mobile. This will enable him to open his room by simply passing it in front of the lock. “This technology is already in the testing phases. It was adopted by automobile rentals. It is not a virtual project but an innovation that is at an advanced stage of development,” insists Christian Hénon. “Vingcard simply hopes to preempt the trend by proposing NFC compatible products.”Another technological development is “VisiOnline”, a new solution that will become available in early 2008. “Today, locks are autonomous, and battery powered. As a result any work on the lock – checking it, reprogramming it – requires attending to it physically. Soon everything will be able to be controlled from a central location thanks to the ZYGBEE protocol.” This will mean locks will communicate directly with reception. The locks’ history will be available in direct... Moreover, if there is a break in the network, the lock resumes autonomous operations. “So there is no concern for catastrophe, such as an unexploitable floor.”How could biometrics, which has made its entry into the arena for opening safes, be missing from this hitech riot? This technology is based on the recognition of physiognomic imprints (thumb, palm, iris, voice...). Not so long ago, it was presented as the next must. And while it has found some experimental applications in hotels, it only made a brief appearance in terms of controlling access to private areas. “The interest of this technology lies in the service sector, particularly for offices,” explains Philippe Giraud, “but for a hotel, and an upscale one in particular which is the segment that is potentially interested, the principal runs up against some practical pitfalls. Often the person reserving the room is not the one who will occupy it. Thus, it is impossible to record the guest’s biometric imprint in advance. Then, this technology consumes a great deal of energy, and that at a time when the overall trend is to conserve it as much as possible”.The technological innovations continue to move this sector that is undergoing an evolution, but no mistakes must be made in making choices, because while it will continue in the months ahead, its source is not necessarily what we expected.

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