Jan 18, 2006 | 00:25 GMT

4 mins read

Travel Security: Mitigating the Risk at Overseas Hotels

Editor's Note: This is the third in a seven-part series on personal security for international travelers. Terrorist attacks in past years against U.S., Israeli and Australian embassies forced Western countries to harden their diplomatic compounds abroad, turning them into veritable fortresses of security. In response, terrorists began focusing on softer symbols of Western influence, such as large hotels and resorts. By attacking a Marriott, a Hyatt, a Moevenpick or another popular Western chain, the perpetrators can cause mass casualties and gain international media attention — and all without having to penetrate extreme security. A security guard searches a car outside a Beirut hotel. When these types of attacks first started occurring, the perpetrators usually relied on car or truck bombs that they could ram into a hotel lobby. As some hotels erected concrete barriers to counteract this threat, terrorists began using suicide bombers who could walk past security and into a crowded room, such as a restaurant or ballroom, before detonating their devices. Since the increase in hotel attacks worldwide, the larger chain hotels certainly have implemented stricter security measures, hiring private security staff, erecting the vehicle barriers and operating multi-layered checkpoints staffed by guards armed with automatic assault rifles and handheld metal detectors. Travelers, however, also can take measures to enhance their chances of surviving a terrorist attack, or an accident, at a foreign hotel. If a large luxury hotel is desired — as opposed to the smaller boutique hotels that so far have avoided such attacks — it would behoove the traveler to first learn whether adequate security measures are in place at the chosen location before making a reservation. This information is best acquired from a trusted business associate or other source in the country, rather than the hotel itself, which could provide hollow assurances. The next step would be to choose a safer room location, somewhere above the ground floor — to prevent a potential attacker from entering — but not more than several stories up; the room should not be so high that an extension ladder cannot reach it in the event of fire. Standards on ladder lengths, of course, vary from place to place. Acquiring advance knowledge of such details before traveling overseas is a prudent personal protection measure. Other rooms to avoid are those near the front of the hotel and the street. An attack against the hotel typically occurs in the foyer or lobby in the front of the building. In addition, in many countries, there is a threat of car bombs exploding on the street. Sometimes these are very powerful and can damage nearby buildings. Hotel guests also should learn where emergency exits are located, and then physically walk the exit route from the room to safety. This is to verify that doors and stairwells are unlocked and free of obstructions. Keeping a flashlight, a smoke hood and a cell phone on hand is recommended at all times. While in the hotel room, guests should avoid opening doors to unannounced visitors or those claiming to be delivering a package. It is best in both cases to tell the caller to wait in the lobby. This precaution could prevent an attack or a kidnapping attempt. Finally, it is best to avoid lingering in high-risk areas such as hotel lobbies, the front desk and entrance areas, and bars. Western diplomats, business people and journalists who frequently congregate in these areas have been attacked on several occasions. Utilizing the hotel's express check-out service would help bypass the front desk entirely. In addition, any unaccompanied luggage — which could contain a terrorist bomb — would most likely be left near the front desk areas. Should an attack occur, the best course of action is to avoid the primary attack zone. Taking this step reduces the likelihood of being caught in a secondary explosion timed to kill survivors and first responders. If no danger from smoke or fire is present, unharmed guests should remain in their rooms and stay away from windows until rescue and security personnel arrive. The millions of Western travelers who stay in luxury hotels around the world each year rarely encounter more than a minor hiccup in an otherwise enjoyable stay. As terrorists turn their attention more and more toward softer targets, however, the guest who remains vigilant and takes simple personal protective measures has the best chance of surviving an accident or attack at an overseas hotel.

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