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Hotel Negligence: What is Basic and Adequate Security?

All hotels in the Philippines are “negligent” in providing “basic and adequate security” to their guests based on the Philippine Supreme Court’s affirmation of a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling against Shangri-La Makati Hotel on the death of a hotel guest in November 1999.

In a decision penned by Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, the Supreme Court First Division found no reversible error on the part of the CA when it affirmed with modification the judgment rendered by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) on October 25, 2005, holding Makati Shangri-La Hotel and Resort, Inc. liable for damages for the murder of Norwegian guest Christian Fredrik Harper.

Specifically, the CA ordered Shangri-La to pay Harper’s heirs P52,078,702.50 as actual and compensatory damages, P25,000 as temperate damages, P250,000 as attorney’s fees, and to pay for the costs of the suit. As mentioned earlier, the liability stemmed from the court’s finding that Shangri-La was negligent in providing “adequate security,” and such negligence led to Harper’s death.

The landmark court decision practically compels now all real estate projects, such as mixed-use residential-commercial establishments, resorts, hotels, condotels, service apartments, and clubhouses, among others, to do something about the security measures being implemented in their properties before implications of negligence hound them for decades. But the question is, how do these real estate developments implement drastic changes to their enforced security posture without compromising several aspects of their business operations?

The decision, it seems, blurred the dividing line between public areas inside private properties and privacy inside public areas. It somehow raised the bar on the perceived standards of 5-star security.

Understanding Hotel Security

Hotel security management generally faces challenges similar to those of other real estate projects, but the degree and “additional amenities” may vary from one hotel to another. Unlike long-term tenants of residential condominiums, hotels have constantly changing guests. The elements of security risk also vary from one country to another. Within a country, it varies among provinces.

Take, for example, Philippine and Indonesian hotels during the height of terror attacks in the past decades. Western companies and governments considered the two countries as high-risk areas for their citizens. Such categorization became the basis of classifying these hotels and resorts at the same high-risk level. They have all their checklists and requirements for hotels to comply with and become their accredited accommodation establishments in a country, especially those considered probable terror targets.

Another example is the security posture of hotels in Makati City and those in Mindanao. Hotels in Makati have several perimeter guards, CCTV cameras, K9 teams, and expensive detectors. In contrast, hotels in places perceived as dangerous to travelers have only one security guard in sloppy uniform armed with a rusty revolver and doing bell services. These are tangibles we usually see outside the hotels as security standards or perceptions.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts have minimum and basic standards in security systems and management for all its hotels and resorts. Due to a strict and efficient security audit system and good support from owners (and management), the 36 properties in nine countries under my responsibility, for example, complied with these minimum standards, which exceeded those of other hotels in the same 5-star category. Shangri-La provides not only the adequate security expected by each guest but complies with the accreditation standards of corporate accounts, mainly the world’s top 1000 corporations.

The security posture of the deluxe hotels in the Philippines drastically changed even before the September 11, 2001 attack on the New York twin towers. The focus of hotel security was greatly influenced by global corporations (primarily those based or owned by the western countries) whose security standards are usually impractically expensive and directed against terror attacks. Hotels were forced to invest in anti-terrorism measures visibly obvious with the heavily armed perimeter security guards, perfunctory body frisking, K9 teams, and expensive CCTV cameras. But still, these are not good enough for the Philippine courts as basic and adequate security.

Most people, particularly hotel patrons and guests, do not mind going through strict security measures. Hotels realize higher revenues when people frequent a perceived safer and more secure place, such as Shangri-La hotels. On the other hand, I am sure that hotel guests and patrons will get irritated or turned off when hotel security people treat everyone as suspicious. Imagine seeing guards patrolling each floor and asking everyone their names, ID cards, and purpose inside the hotel as the Philippine courts expected from a 5-star hotel like Shangri-La.

My perspective is that hotel security management also protects the privacy of guests and patrons. Hotels provide a good night’s sleep in the privacy of their rooms. Security, likewise, provides peace of mind. Hotel security procedures, in turn, should not unnecessarily infringe on the privacy of guests but should employ holistic and balanced systems in order not to compromise security. Before the holistic and balanced systems, all accommodation establishments should first understand basic and adequate hotel security.

Basic and Adequate Hotel Security

I define adequate security as an art and also as a process of responding to threats and risks through risk exposure assessment. Ideally, all security management systems, policies, and procedures should be based on independent and credible risk assessment. However, only very few hotels in the country were designed based on actual and on-the-ground security risk and threat assessments in the real world. Firms that also sell security equipment and are affiliated with security guard agencies doing the risk assessment for some hotels and similar properties. The hotels are not getting independent risk assessments.

Of the more than two dozens of hotels and resorts being constructed in the country since 2011, I estimate that 90% were designed and constructed without security threat and risk assessment. The 10% has foreign security consultants to provide imported logistics and did not conduct any risk assessment or understand the Philippine environment. Aggravating this reality is that many security plans are focused and heavy on the physical security aspect, not on security as a process and a system.

While safety and security standards and expectations vary among hotels and resorts because of several factors, there is no doubt that hotel privacy standards should be the same; hence, hotel security and safety monitoring end at the private room door. Sadly, Philippine courts do not recognize privacy inside hotel rooms when they rejected the fact that there was no forced entry and Harper’s door was opened from the inside.

The Philippine Tourism Law, ironically, comes scarcely of security provisions. No wonder it only mentioned the word “security” twice in its text and only mentioned the phrase “adequate security” once on its Implementing Rules and Regulations. Again, the question, what is adequate security?

Consequently, the accreditation standards of the Department of Tourism mentioned ‘adequate security” but failed to define or provide details on its interpretation. The terms of references of the National Tourism Development Program did not mention any security and safety word. Now that Philippine courts defined adequate security, to the detriment of hotels and resorts, even mixed-use projects, it is high time for the tourism industry to evaluate and understand adequate security. I hope that the Department of Tourism clarifies the definition of “adequate security” with the Supreme Court before it imposes standards for rating the hotels and resorts in the country.

Adequate security, in the CA ruling as affirmed by the SC, implies that the hotel implements the “one guard per floor policy” proposed by then Shangri-La hotel security manager Col. Rodrigo de Guzman upon looking into the length and shape of hallways and minor crime incidents. The SC, in effect, ignored the argument of the defense that such security measure isn’t needed when the volume of hotel guests is low. The courts also did not merit the privacy aspect when the hotel proved that the victim was the one who allowed the entry of the lady suspect in his room. The courts believed that the hotel should be liable for the death inside the guest room.

Five-star security standard is not a gray area since the court did not take cognizance of other security measures. Like most of the population, they still have the “security-guard-only” mindset about security.

Two Major Implications

Yes, I am questioning the basis of the decisions of the courts. I am not writing this to defend Shangri-La and highlight the two significant implications of the court decision to the tourism industry’s accommodation establishments, including the serviced apartments or condotels.

What are the courts’ references in defining adequate security standards when there is none in any official government literature and documents? Who were the amici curiae or friends of the courts in hotel security management?

One significant implication is the higher likelihood of a hotel being involved in similar litigation. There will be relatives of crime victims who will resort to litigation to collect damages as they seek justice. “Local representatives” and lawyers will see the temptation of filing civil cases against hotels for negligence.

Another one is privacy. Even if a hotel can afford one guard for each floor, asking everyone with ‘security’ questions, it is not guaranteed that a crime will not happen inside a hotel room.

Preventive Measures

Therefore, there is only one measure to satisfy the courts’ basic and adequate hotel security perception. That is to actively monitor activities and people inside each occupied guest room by doing the following:

Post a guard inside the room to physically stop any crime. Inquire on the identity of everyone inside the room as a deterrence to discourage any attempt to commit a crime or help catch the suspects.

Install a video camera to record the events and images of people inside the room to discourage crimes and have documentation to use in courts.

Ridiculous recommendations? Yes, indeed. I can’t think of other ways to interpret our Philippine courts’ basic and adequate security standards. What about you?

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