Establishing an Effective Guestroom Lock Policy
The following steps outline an effective policy to protect the security of hotel guests by controlling the distribution of room keys and to ensure the effectiveness of guestroom locks. It also serves as a good example of how a safety program should be implemented. Notice the number of different components of a hotel’s operation that contribute to the effectiveness of this policy, from the use of technology (by installing electronic locking systems) to staff training (following procedures such as never announcing room numbers out loud) to management functions (performing a lock audit).
1. Install an electronic locking system.
Essentially, an electronic locking system uses a computer to generate a room key for each guest. At the conclusion of the guest’s stay, the key “expires,” or is made inoperable. In addition, the key system computer records the number of times a key is used to enter each room, as well as to whom the key used for entry was issued. For example, if a room attendant is issued a submaster key to all rooms on the first floor of a hotel, each time the room attendant uses the key, the time of use, as well as the identification number of the key, will be recorded in the computer’s memory, where it may be retrieved if needed.
Traditional mechanical locking devices do not help ensure guest safety, nor do they allow you to monitor the use of the key. Guest safety is compromised because any guest could make a copy of his or her room key, and return after he or she has checked out of the hotel to gain access to his or her old room. Employees could also make duplicate keys. Management cannot monitor key usage in any way because a mechanical lock does not record the identification number of the key used to open the door.
2. Train all new employees on the procedures used to ensure key security.
Every new hotel employee needs to understand the importance of guest safety and key control. Housekeepers, maintenance staff, front desk staff, and even food and beverage staff should all be trained prior to beginning work. Excellent key control and guest privacy training materials can be secured from the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association at a very reasonable cost. And, remember, it is important to document your training efforts.
3. Never announce guestroom numbers out loud.
When guests check into a hotel, it is never appropriate to say their room number out loud. The number should be written on the envelope or key cardholder containing the guest’s room key. Also, it is important never to give a guest’s room number to a caller or other guests in the hotel, regardless of their relationship to the original guest.
4. Never mark the room number directly on the key.
Guestroom keys should never be imprinted with the guestroom number.
5. Do not identify the hotel with the key.
Despite the widespread practice of customizing electronic key cards, it is never a good idea to “market” the hotel by printing property- specific information on the key card itself. If lost of stolen, potential thieves should not be able to determine where the key originated. It may be good marketing to custom print key cards, but it makes for poor security. Avoid the practice.
6. Do not reissue keys to guests without a positive ID check.
When guests lock themselves out of a room, or lose their keys, they must be required to positively identify themselves before they are issued a duplicate key. This rule simply cannot be broken. If a guest maintains that he or she has left his or her identification in the guestroom and thus cannot produce it, the guest should be escorted by management to the room, where the proper identification can be secured. Employee violations of this rule should lead to immediate disciplinary action, because requesting and receiving an unauthorized key to a room is the primary way a thief can foil an electronic locking system.
7. Do not issue duplicate keys to anyone except the registered guest.
The registered guest, and only the guest, should be able to request and receive a duplicate or replacement room key. Keys should not be issued to either spouses or children. Remember that it is the guest, not the hotel, who has the right to determine who is to be allowed access to his or her room.
8. Minimize the number of master keys.
Electronic locking systems preclude the making of master keys. In addition, master keys with restrictions can be created. That is, a housekeeping supervisor may be issued a submaster key that opens all guestroom doors on the first floor, but not the electronic lock to the liquor storeroom, which is also on the first floor. A master key should be available to the manager on duty, in case of emergency.
9. Keep a log of all existing masters and submasters.
All master and submaster keys that are issued should be recorded. The key identification number, the individual receiving the key, and the key’s expiration date should be noted. In all cases, the number of master and submaster keys should be limited and accounted for on a regular basis.
In addition, all such keys should be voided and reissued on a regular basis. The regulation of these key types should be well documented.
10. Train all managers on duty (MODs) on the procedures to conduct a lock audit. Record the results of any audits performed.
When it is necessary to determine who has gained access to a room, an audit of all keys used to open a guestroom door should be performed.
Possible instances that could necessitate an audit include a guest report of theft from a room, reports of poor service to a room, and so on. In all cases, a record should be kept of who performed the audit and the results of the audit, including any subsequent action taken by management. Every MOD should be trained in how to perform the lock audit and how to record the results.