Unlocking potential

Pascal Metivier, executive vice president, Assa Abloy Hospitality, discusses important issues concerning hotel security, after-sales support and the problems caused by counterfeit operators

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  December 21, 2004

|~|Pascal-Metivier-picture.jpg|~||~|Now, more than ever, hotel security is of vital importance to hotel owners, operators and guests. Guests want to feel secure, they want to know that their belongings are safe, but most importantly they do not want to be alarmed or made to feel aware of being in a ‘secure environment’.

Swedish group Assa Abloy has been producing card locking systems and in-room safes since 1976. The company has long had a presence in the Middle East, distributing products across the region, and opened a dedicated support centre in Dubai two years ago.

“We have a dedicated staff of seven in Dubai. This is unique in terms of this business. We also have an extensive network of local business partners to get us as close as we can be to hotels. Coupled with that, we offer hotel chains and management companies a service and consultation approach at a corporate level,” explains Pascal Metivier, executive vice president, Assa Abloy Hospitality.

“We offer a unique combination of knowledge of hotel security systems and new technology. We offer not only electronic locks and safes but also hardware. In a new construction market like the Middle East that makes a considerable difference,” Metivier adds.

The company opened its offices in the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai in 2002, and has plans to expand further within the Middle East. Metivier is now looking at bringing in a higher-level of technical support to the Dubai office and sees Dubai developing as a regional hub, with Assa Abloy having a footprint in all the markets.

From a product standpoint, VingCard and Elsafe are established products in technology, service and security. However, for Metivier, the latest technology does not necessarily make a building more secure.

“The latest technology might be news but might not be the best thing, as there are new problems and issues with security breaches to look at. The security industry should be conservative at times and not concerned with the latest thing with all the bells and whistles. You have to make sure the whole system is secure,” he stresses.

Technological support

After-sales support is a vital part of the VingCard and Elsafe offering, says Metivier. “The hotel industry is a service industry and security is about trust. It is about service first, then people, then product,” he remarks.

Assa Abloy offers continual staff training for hotels using VingCard or Elsafe products. “We are dealing with an industry that has a high staff turnover. We offer training and assess the performance of the staff being trained. That is also why we promote service contracts, which can include retraining as well as routine maintenance, etc. What is most important is making sure staff know how to use it,” says Metivier.

Another aspect of this support is upgrading locking systems. “VingCard was the inventor of the card lock system. Today, if you bought an original VingCard it can be upgraded in a few minutes while keeping a large amount of what is on the door. Equally important, new generation technology makes upgrading the lock easy. It works like a mini computer and if you are working on a property management system (PMS) there is no need to visit each lock for frequent upgrades,” he explains.

VingCard has an average life of 10-12 years, taking it through at least two hotel renovation cycles. Hotels can adapt the technology during this life cycle before having to go through the disruption of changing hardware.

Counterfeit market

As with all branded products, a counterfeit market has emerged within the electronic locking industry. Metivier warns hotelier against taking a cheaper option: “Something that looks like VingCard will not necessarily work like a VingCard. If you buy a copy Rolex the worse that can happen is that it stops working, but if you buy a copy VingCard you are putting your whole operation at risk. Hotels do not always take this seriously enough.”

As with all counterfeit products, it is those elements you don’t see that make the difference. Fire standards and safety access are pertinent issues for hotels. Doors need to be fire proof. They also need to be accessible. “Doors need to protect you while you are in the room. Counterfeit locks are not fireproof, they don’t stop fire coming through the lock,” Metivier says.

“We are lucky to say that VingCard quality standards are probably better than most. We carry out vigorous checks, and carry out a complete check of the property before leaving. The brand is strong because of the reliability of the system,” he adds.

“The best way to avoid counterfeit is to buy its hotel locking system from an authorised VingCard Elsafe distributor. They are trained and certified professional that will advise the hotel management on the most suitable system for their property,” he recommends.

In addition to counterfeit products, security access and computer hacking is another key factor that hotels need to be aware of. “It is vital to use the right technology for the application in a secure way. We have invested in encryption technology to make sure that what is on the card/software is not a gate for people to break in. You cannot leave the back door wide open, as you compromise the system and, more importantly, the customer reputation. The safety and security of guests is not worth playing with,” Metivier stresses.

“You would not put your credit card number on the Internet if it were not an encrypted site, so why buy a card system that is not encrypted? We ensure our encryption keeps evolving, so we make it not worth it for a hacker to spend time cracking our codes. Everything invented by a human being can be broken by a human being — it is all about effort. We make it not worth it.”

The human factor

According to Metivier, future trends for locking systems are centred on use and the human factor.

“The human factor is about making it easier for the guest to use. There is a trend for contactless cards. However, for the last 20 years guests have been trained to insert their key cards in the lock on the door. Now, contactless cards may only have to be presented close to the reader, but the reader may not be located on the door. We see guests struggle and what appears to be a good idea is not necessarily a good idea when we factor in human nature. The ‘coolness’ of the product is not always good for the guest,” he says.

“The industry is driven more by the technological aspect of the lock than by the core of what the lock should be: safety, security and human factor. The way it looks is not always a sign that the human factor has been taken into consideration.”

In an industry where style and cutting edge design are prevalent, aesthetics is the new buzzword, even in lock hardware. “The lock industry has failed to combine safety, security, and the human factor with a good-looking product. There is a lot of work to be done to combine these things. From a design point, the interior designers have one concept of what they want to achieve. But you have to take all aspects into consideration to make it logical.

“We discuss this with hoteliers, the operating people, and develop a hypothesis. Then we test it with guests, this is where we can make the improvements. It is a three-way triangle of hotel, manufacturer and guest. We see that as the core of what we do. It is less flashy – but it works,” Metivier maintains.||**||

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