|The interior of a bombed-out guestroom at the Paradise Hotel in Kenya on 30 November 2002, two days after a suicide attack killed 16.
HOUSTON—“We only need to be lucky once. You need to be lucky every time.”—Irish Republican Army to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher following a failed assassination attempt.
Brenda Durham, VP and assistant general counsel for Marriott International, used the preceding quote Saturday morning to sum up hotels’ never-ending fight for security at the Global Congress on Legal, Safety, & Security Solutions in Travel in Houston.
As difficult as it might sound, it is possible for hotels to be lucky every time when it comes to preventing terrorism and other safety-threatening events. But, as with other things, luck is the product of good, old-fashioned preparedness, presenters said during a session on global best practices in hotel security.
Terrorists are increasingly targeting hotels because of the worldwide attention such attacks receive, Durham said, so it’s important to have a plan in place. Marriott, for one, uses a multi-point crisis management program that is reviewed semiannually.
When a crisis occurs at a Marriott property, security team members are automatically notified via phone and email and immediately hop onto a conference call to discuss the situation.
“In Egypt (this spring), things were unfolding so quickly we were on the phone every three hours,” she said.
Brad Bonnell, director of global security at InterContinental Hotels Group, relayed a similar message regarding the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. Communication is vital, he agreed.
VP and assistant general counsel
“Throughout Mumbai, we were burning up the telephone lines and text messages,” he said.
Preparedness should extend beyond a company’s executives, said Tom Whitlatch of Hospitality Risk Controls. Housekeepers, those employees who spend a considerable amount of time in hotel hallways and guestrooms, need to be trained to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior.
Housekeepers, he said, should not be afraid to challenge people they see in hallways to show room keys. “We have to train them and get them to understand it’s OK to do that,” Whitlatch said.
Further, housekeepers need to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity in guestrooms, too, Durham said.
“It’s the housekeeper who might go into the room who might notice something unusual about a piece of equipment or luggage sitting on the bed,” she said.
A military approach
In some respects, hotel companies have taken on the characteristics of a military or government unit when it comes to hotel security.
“The Islamabad Marriott is as close to a bunker as anyone has ever seen,” Durham said.
Further, evacuating guests from Marriott hotels in Libya, without the benefit of airlift, was “a real military operation,” she added.
Should hoteliers disguise these military elements to foster a more welcoming environment for guests? Not so, said presenters. In high-risk areas, there’s nothing more welcoming than for guests to know they’re safe.
And like the military, hotels must be heavily involved in the intelligence and counter-intelligence game, presenters said. Marriott uses contracted sources it has on the ground in various global markets who inform company officials what is happening in the region.
Diversifying sources of information is a smart tactic, Whitlatch said. “If you are dependent on the (U.S.) State Department to be aware of something happening in a country, they will probably be the last to tell you … They are trying to be a little (politically correct) and not getting countries upset.”
In the end, though, the presenters agreed that having a plan in place should be priority No. 1 for hotels.
“It’s not suggested, it’s not recommended, it’s an established set of standards,” Durham said.