It seems so simple, but as the tragedy in Las Vegas reminds us, this type of vigilance is a key component of public safety.
It is not hard to imagine that the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas in early October created particular anguish within the hotel industry.
The bad actor appeared to have targeted concertgoers rather than hotel guests; nevertheless, he used a hotel to carry out the carnage. The horrific event underscored security experts’ recognition that hotels and restaurants are so-called “soft targets” for terrorists.
Those who want to cause as much damage, injury and terror as possible often carry out evil where large groups of vulnerable people congregate. Terrorist acts put human life and limb in peril.
Several years ago at the annual Hospitality Law Conference in Houston, representatives from the Department of Homeland Security addressed a group of hospitality industry lawyers, insurers, and executives with a sobering warning. Acts and threats of terrorism were already an issue for hotel and restaurant operators in many parts of the world. Their message: It wasn’t if, but when, these acts would be carried out at properties in the United States.
The industry has not ignored this emerging program. For example, the AHLEI’s Hotel Security and Anti-Terrorism Training Program, which was introduced in 2011, is a step toward providing hotel employees with guidance on how to identify, report and respond to these threats.
At this year’s Hospitality Law conference in Houston, industry security experts discussed methods to minimize, if not avoid, casualties from terrorist acts in hotels. This includes practices such as routine screening of guest luggage. In fact, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy, news reports emerged of hotel operators adopting these practices. Should preparation and training, like courses offered by the Hotel Security and Anti-Terrorism Training Program, need to be as ubiquitous as is ServeSafe in the kitchen?
Operationalizing moral imperative is not always simple from a legal and risk-management perspective. As you might know, hotel operators are not insurers of their guests’ safety; however, they owe their guests a duty of “reasonable care.” Like many professions, hotel operators are held to higher “standards of care,” which might be defined as “the ordinary and reasonable degree of care required of a prudent professional under the circumstances.”
Should the hotel industry and its legal advisors consider what security measures, if any, might be adopted by the industry as established “standard of care” to protect guests from terrorism? This is not something to be considered lightly, as operators who do not apply the established standard of care are exposed to liability. There is a considerable price tag for heightened security measures, as anyone who has traveled through an airport after 9/11 understands.
In the meantime, fostering a culture of awareness among hospitality staff and management could go a long way toward security. This is not a stretch, as the hospitality industry has always been charged with a public safety role in terms of sanitation and safety.
Acts of terrorism risk life and limb. Just the threat of terrorism is damaging to the hospitality industry and ultimately the economy as individuals become wary of putting themselves in harm’s way.
As the industry comes to an agreement on the measures and standards necessary to foil future acts of terrorism, it would seem that management and staff vigilance and responsiveness would not only protect guests but the health of the industry as well.
Barry Shuster, JD, MBA, MS, CHE, CHIA is interim chair of the Hospitality & Tourism Administration program at North Carolina Central University School of Business, and a visiting associate professor of business and hospitality law and hospitality finance and cost control.
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