Imagine hosting at least 10 dignitaries and world leaders and more than 2,000 on-site guests, while planning meals four days in advance and storing the food on premise while adhering to the rules that nothing else be allowed on-site.
While people around the world were watching the goings-on at the G8 Summit in Ontario’s Muskoka region, the staff at Deerhurst Resort was living it. Playing host to a world-class event put the spotlight on the resort and required heightened security to keep the Summit running smoothly, and leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama and Great Britain Prime Minister David Cameron safe.
For Deerhurst, the June 2010 G8 represented years of pre-planning that began with a 2007 assessment, which identified risks at the property and determined how to fix them. It meant back-and-forth negotiations with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the security teams of dignitaries; background checks on hotel staff, with special IDs and security perimeters set up around the property during the Summit itself. It was the largest, most intense event in which Joseph Klein, Deerhurst’s general manager, has ever been involved, with onsite security requirements — undertaken by the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, Canadian Armed Forces and the Deerhurst team — to match.
Despite the hoopla, Klein kept a level-head, especially since guest safety is an ongoing requirement at any hotel. “[Security] is a never-ending responsibility and a never-ending focus,” says Klein of Deerhurst, a property now owned by the Toronto-based Skyline International Development Inc. “Security is not just a department’s responsibility and not just management’s responsibility — it’s every single employee’s responsibility. Vigilance is critical.”
Take the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) being held this month as another example. The Hazelton Hotel — a 77-room boutique hotel in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood — is the temporary residence of choice for many celebrities throughout the year, with several on site at festival time and oglers gathered outside, too. It may not be as delicate a situation as the G8 — where dignitaries’ food had to be prepared twice, each meal inspected randomly by on-site Health Canada representatives — but The Hazelton has different security concerns to consider. The property also hosts guests who aren’t involved in the celebrity hooha and hotel staff must cater to them while keeping celebrity guests and their fans safe, too.
At the Hazelton, only approved visitors and staff are allowed in during TIFF, says David Mounteer, the property’s general manager. While local police control the crowds outside during the Festival, the hotel employs an outside security team to man the doors, keeping track of a list of guests and their visitors. With visitors coming in and out for events at the hotel, too, it’s a logistical challenge. “We basically fence off access to the hotel — all points are controlled,” says Mounteer, who adds that potential security companies are screened prudently. “We’re very careful about who we hire, and we ensure their service philosophy matches ours. We don’t want them to be Gestapo-like — we want them to show respect to everyone, even those not on the list.”
In a way, Mounteer adds, The Hazelton was designed for events such as TIFF and for the security of high-profile guests year-round. There are multiple entry points, allowing celebrity guests to announce or hide their presence as desired, and access is controlled. Anyone who does come in through the front door immediately passes the front desk, where staff can see them. And, while there’s no dedicated security team outside of the week-and-a-half that TIFF runs, staff have been trained to handle security requirements. They intercept packages sent to celebrities, handle calls from wily fans trying to get access to their favourite star and have even been known to use the hotel’s house car as a decoy.
“The main lesson we’ve learned is you can never be too careful,” Mounteer says. “People are very smart these days. We get a lot of people who are almost obsessed with these stars.”
And that obsession is worldwide. When the 1,365-room Fairmont Royal York — also in Toronto — hosted celebrities and dignitaries for the International Indian Film Academy awards in June, the on-site security team carried out standard pre-planning, including examining local demographics to assess crowd-control needs — a good move considering the massive fan turnout.
“The safety and security measures we use change — we adapt them,” says Stewart Marshall, director of Security Service at the Royal York. In fact, the iconic hotel has an on-site team dedicated to just that. The same team hosted the G20 in June 2010, witnessing parts of the city closed off due to security concerns. Marshall wasn’t part of the Royal York team then, but he did direct security during the Bollywood awards ceremony. At the time, Toronto police maintained crowd control outside, and Marshall and his team ensured everything ran smoothly inside.
Part of maintaining security during a high-profile event means ensuring other guests, not involved with the festivities, feel safe and are having a positive experience. For Marshall, who is securing a large hotel, that means communicating with such guests to determine concerns and avoiding access restrictions if possible. “We try to maintain ourselves as a building accessed for the public, in all fashions. We prefer to see the public coming in,” he says, “So we don’t like to restrict spaces if we don’t have to. However, given the high-profile nature of some of our guests, we may use a different entry point, a quieter entry, or we may section off parts of an entry to allow access.”
But, maintaining security during high-profile events is an ongoing learning experience. After each event, Marshall’s team assesses the situation. “We’ll debrief and look at our success stories within that function; we’ll critique heavily the things we think we may have done differently,” Marshall says. “We move those things forward into our next event, and that way we hopefully have a better perspective of the next thing that comes down.”
For another Fairmont property — The Fairmont Chateau Whistler — there won’t likely be another event that matches the scope of the XXI Winter Olympics, hosted in British Columbia in February 2010. The hotel established Gregg Lown as director of Olympic Operations in the months leading up to the event. He determined contingency plans for potential security and logistical concerns, interacted with the security teams of the heads of states and royalty coming to stay at the hotel, and worked with the RCMP, who set up a command post for its Internationally Protected Persons division.
The RCMP assessed the security at the Chateau Whistler ahead of time, suggesting small changes such as doors that needed new locks to keep the front-of-house and back-of-house well divided. Lown also sent out security passes to guests during that time, allowing them highway access into Whistler, which was restricted by the Olympics’ Vancouver Organizing Committee.
In the end, the 21 days that marked the 2010 Olympics ran smoothly. As in the case of Deerhurst, the preplanning paid off. “We were almost disappointed we spent so much time planning, with so many contingency plans and everything [planned] to the nth degree,” jokes Lown. Nothing did happen, “But in the end, the planning helped. You just plan for every foreseeable eventuality, and luckily nothing stumbled us.”
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