Expect hotels to resemble airports very soon, warn security experts, a result of the chilling terrorist attacks on the iconic Taj Palace Hotel as well as the Oberoi Trident Hotel in Mumbai on November 26.
“Archway detectors at the entrance are going to become an ordinary feature for (five-star) hotels,” Angus Stevenson-Hamilton, director for corporate security of the Shangri-La Group, told Business Traveller. “They will have to invest in bomb vapour detectors to examine cars and suitcases.”
He cited procedures in other cities around the region that hotels throughout the world may have to look at adopting. “In China, guests are asked for their passports and copies of these are fed to the PSB (Public Security Bureau) for background checking.”
In the Philippines (Manila and Cebu) and Indonesia (Jakarta), no stranger to terrorism, sniffer dogs patrol all Shangri-La hotel entrances, and definitely would have raised a ruckus had they encountered any bags containing explosive materials, which had been reportedly stored in the Taj for several days and used by the extremists to set deadly traps that went off against law enforcers try to flush them out. “They’re very effective, although they can’t be worked past a certain number of hours.”
Stevenson-Hamilton added: “Like in the Philippines and Indonesia, hotels will have to reinforce their perimeter, or ‘lockdown’ as we say, and check all cars and deliveries coming in.”
He noted the Taj had “too many entrances” that lacked monitoring, and warned that facilities usually open to the public such as fitness centres would have to now (discretely) screen customers, particularly those who were not members.
Physical checks of personal belongings, already the norm in the Philippines and Indonesia, will become commonplace elsewhere. “In fact, guests in these places expect it,” observed Stevenson-Hamilton.
J Alan Orlob, vice-president for corporate security and loss prevention of Marriott International, said of the Mumbai tragedy: “We look at it to learn lessons. As different attacks evolve, we also need to evolve.
“For some time, our hotels in India (Marriott and Renaissance properties) have been on the highest security alert level. What happened last week shows that it’s not necessarily an American hotel brand that gets targeted.” The Chatrapathi Srivaji Terminus railway station and Nariman House, a Jewish outreach centre, were also victims of the meticulously planned operation.
Hotels belonging to the US-based chain were direct hits previously – the Marriott Jakarta in 2003 and Marriott Islamabad in 2004 and just in September, while three Marriott properties were collateral victims, two in the World Trade Centre catastrophe in 2001 and Marriott Karachi, which was damaged when a suicide car bomb went off near the US consulate in 2002.
Since Jakarta has had to learn to live these past years with the spectre of violence, local hotels have had to adapt. While majority of them enforce rigid examination of vehicles before allowing them to approach the porte-cochere, the popular Hotel Mulia Senayan went a step further, assigning an area off the entrance, where guests have to identify their luggage before checking in.
While hotels may step up equipping their premises with cutting edge technology – an exercise that “will cost”, according to Marriott’s Orlob – these would be useless without the cooperation and training of the staff.
Said Stevenson-Hamilton, a veteran of 40 years in the business: “Lots and lots of drills will take place. Sharing of intelligence (among hotels and authorities) will be important, especially as terrorism seems to be moving towards urban guerilla warfare.”
Richard P Appelbaum, general manager of the Hotel Mulia Senayan, agreed, saying: “We have to have the ongoing attention and awareness of all our employees on this issue, which we achieve by achieving by providing weekly and monthly workshops on how to detect, react and act once a moment of suspicion arises.
“We’ve even trained our guestroom attendant to be alert when making up rooms, to be aware of guest corridor movements which seem unusual. But we have to tread the fine line to educate our employees to be vigilant without being intruding.
“Security measures should be pro active and friendly without giving a feel of overdoing it, creating an atmosphere of discomfort for our hotel and restaurant guests.”
Travellers as well, said Orlob, would do well to get involved in their own security situation. “They should (make it a habit) to become of aware of their hotel environment and guestroom in relation to its surroundings – how far is the room from the elevator or emergency exit; where it leads to etc. And they should even test walking to it.
“They should understand their guestroom is their habitation, and not let anyone in before checking who’s at the door. There are view ports and nightlatches which should be used.”
Background checks of staff and guests may become commonplace, but they are not always failsafe. If there’s one thing no one can vet, said Orlob: “it’s someone’s ideology”.
Margie T Logarta