Hospitality vs Security at Sri Lankan hotels

Do hotels know the importance of balancing the two?

In the aftermath of the events that took place on April 21, understandably security has become a top priority in Sri Lanka – particularly for places of worship and hotels, which were the main targets. 

As someone who grew up during the civil war, I have enjoyed the freedom of not seeing security personnel everywhere for the past 10 years. I had become accustomed to not being asked to show my ID at random checkpoints, the joy of travelling to any part of the island without being questioned and subjected to security check-ups. Everything changed on that fateful day. Apart from the loss of many valuable lives and fear that has wrecked every person who lives in this island, we have collectively lost the freedom we had become used to.  

There’s a security personnel at every street corner and the hotels have beefed up their security – as they so rightly should. At the end of the day, while freedom is important, safety should always come first. Every hotel I have visited since the incident has set up their own security precaution to ensure that no one enters the premises unnoticed or unchecked. These procedures vary from four to five people manning the entrance with baggage scanners and metal detectors, to carrying out a thorough search – a common sight at bigger hotels. The smaller properties have two people at the entrance for meet and greets as well as to conduct a more basic search. 

However, a visit to an internationally branded hotel on the south coast, my first since the attacks, made me question if hotels knew the importance of balancing security and hospitality. 

During this short visit, I encountered several problems with the security personnel, who eventually denied me from accessing the hotel lobby. He then forced me to conduct the purpose of my visit a few feet from the hotel gate.    

1) At the entrance I was not provided with a reason or an explanation as to why I had to present credentials 

2) I felt I was profiled by the hotel security for being a Sri Lankan national.

3) The lack of professionalism and rudeness displayed by the security personnel by speaking over me to the Front Office Staff in Sinhala 

While I completely understand that security is first and second priority, where does hospitality fit in this list? I don’t know if the security personnel are employed directly by the hotel or by a third party. Either way, any guest who visits the hotel, including myself will always associate the hotel brand with the security present on their premises. They are the first face the guest meets, and as we all know, first impressions count.

Needless to say, I dreaded to visit any hotel after that particular experience. Fortunately for me, the second hotel I visited had a kinder and more hospitable approach to their security checks. I was greeted at the entrance with smiles and informed that they had to check my bag as a part of their security procedures and the staff was gracious enough to apologise for any inconvenience caused. 

This hotel also comes under an international chain but how they had adapted to the demands of the current situation placed the two hotels at the opposite ends of hospitality. The level of professionalism the hotel management displayed in how they implemented these precautions showed that they understood the importance of balancing security and hospitality.  

So how should hotels, staff and security personnel conduct themselves in these challenging times? They have to ensure the safety of guests as well as their staff. I’m not an expert on either subject but I think a bit of hospitality and kindness could make an uneasy experience much more pleasant and encourage guests to visit the hotel again in the future.

Read more about the impacts of terror attacks on other Asian tourist destinations here.

Hospitality Insider Issue 4