Hotels: Staff And Training
Hospitality risk consultants across the board stress the importance of thorough vetting (including background checks), rigorous training, and regular proficiency testing of even the most junior staffers. Some hotel chains began internal reviews within days of the Mumbai attacks; McIndoe’s firm dispatched agents to conduct emergency audits on more than 50 hotels around the world in December alone. “There’s huge turnover in the industry; institutional knowledge bleeds out fast,” says Jan Schnabel, global hospitality and gaming practice leader at Marsh, a global insurance broker. “Hotels need to check constantly that all employees are proficient in the execution of any emergency response.” The drills work: Devendra Bharma, executive vice president of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Mumbai (including both the Trident and the Oberoi), cites his 1,400-strong staff’s regular evacuation exercises as the reason that more than 450 guests from both hotels were led to safety during the November attacks.
Hotels: Government–Hotel Cooperation
One of the major lessons of Mumbai: any hotel concerned with security should have its floor plans on file with the local fire department. Already standard in New York and other U.S. cities, this procedure is predicted to become commonplace at high-end hotels worldwide. (It’s one of the most important booking conditions in the new Traveler Safety Recommendations guide, compiled by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.) Beyond that, more hotels in hot zones are turning to private crisis- and risk-management companies, which supply intelligence on countries and regions and facilitate communication with government or law-enforcement officials. This can be mutually beneficial: John O’Sullivan, general manager of the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay and Sayan resorts in Bali, credits the crucial tourist economy as one of the key factors behind local authorities’ “solid commitment” to exchanging intelligence with his properties (and, he says, most of the others on the island) since the 2002 and 2005 bombings there.
These days security is often incorporated at the most preliminary design stages of a new hotel, whether it’s a 20-villa resort or a 500-room tower. Control Risks has an entire section made up of engineers, terrorism-damage experts, and security designers that tailors building templates to clients’ security needs. Industry conversation about “designing in” safety measures ranges from discussions of technology (more extensive key-card reading systems) and materials (antiballistic glass used in lobbies and elsewhere) to a hotel’s layout (driveways that circumvent guest areas entirely, deeper setbacks from streets). After the Mumbai attacks, talk of lockdown systems in lobbies and restaurants (mobile walls that would seal them off in seconds in the event of an attack) increased. McIndoe, however, is skeptical. “The last thing you’d want is a malfunctioning lockdown system trapping people inside during a fire.” One thing most experts agree on is limiting access to guest floors: “Any new hotel that’s not incorporating elevator key-card readers is missing the boat,” Schnabel says. “There’s no good reason someone on the fourth floor should have access to every other floor.”
Courtesy of Taj Resorts
Hotels: Managing Perception
Though hotels are tight-lipped about their security enhancements today, McIndoe predicts it won’t be long before properties worldwide begin marketing them to travelers. He even goes so far as to posit the emergence of a “fortress hotel” brand targeted to high-risk regions. Somewhat trickier will be acclimating guests to the upgraded protocols—extra guards, or security questions at check-in—in Marrakesh or Istanbul; or, for that matter, L.A. or London. In other words, hoteliers are exploring how to frame security the way they do 400-thread-count sheets—as both a privilege of luxury and a cornerstone of customer service.
Already, properties are updating their in-room compendiums with security information. Schnabel has been working with hotels to add information on “geopolitical conditions, crime rates—a view of the local picture.” The idea is to provide a best-practice guide, so guests clearly understand both the destination’s inherent risks and the hotel’s security procedures.
The encouraging news is that the expertise, technology, and motivation to make hotels safer is there, and it’s being tapped. But nearly every source agreed that travelers need to be informed and proactive themselves. Just as hotel managers familiarize themselves with local political developments, religious holidays, crime rates, and other dynamic barometers of risk, so should you. (See “T+L’s Safety Tips”)
They also emphasize the relatively small risk associated with terrorist attacks. McIndoe estimates that a traveler has a 1 in 10 million chance of being in a terrorist attack. Meanwhile, in India, your chance of being in a fatal car accident is 1 in 22,000. “We try to help people step back and remind themselves of the bigger picture,” McIndoe says. “And would I personally stay at the Taj Mahal tomorrow?Absolutely.”