To stand still is to fall behind in the competitive world of retail. So retailers are always searching for new consumers and will typically go wherever they find them. It’s why there is never a shortage of news, such as word recently that Bloomingdale’s will be expanding into Kuwait.
But long before a retailer opens shop in a far-flung destination, key personnel will need to make repeated travel to those locations. Keeping them safe during those excursions is a legitimate safety concern. This post offers some business travel safety tips for retailers on the go.
At a recent security conference, representatives from Marriott and Hilton briefed security and loss prevention executives on the security measures they’ve been putting in place to make their properties safer, including back-of-the-house access control, terrorism awareness programs, and threat response procedures. Although the intention may have been to put minds at ease regarding the hospitality industry being up to the task, it also highlighted the real risks of foreign business travel. Jay Galindo, regional director, global safety and security at Marriott International, suggested that the risk of terrorist supported active shooter incidents at hotels could be underestimated. “I think there is a real threat that such an attack could occur, including in the US,” he said. “I think that we kind of live with a false sense of security.”
The most recent large attack occurred in the capital of Mali in November 2015, when a gunman stormed a Radisson hotel and took 170 people hostage—a siege that ended in the death of 27 people.
Which Hotel Recommendations Make Sense?
If tasked to source hotels for traveling employees, corporate security executives face a difficult choice. Either go with marquee hotel names that attract a lot of Westerners where security measures are likely to be strong, or recommend less conspicuous, locally owned properties that terrorists are less likely to attack—but where there may be less assurance of security.
Following the 2009 suicide attack on a Marriott in Jakarta, for example, ConocoPhilips removed Marriott’s two Jakarta properties from their company’s preferred hotel list. Private security firm Stratfor has also advised clients, at times, to “avoid large chain hotels dominated by Western clientele” and opt instead for smaller properties, according to a report by Florida International University’s Ryder Center for Supply Chain Management, “Reflections on the Evolving Terrorist Threat to Luxury Hotels: A Case Study on Marriott International.”
Is this wise? Executives need to carefully weigh risks before recommending smaller properties or remote locations because of perceived security threats. The number of major terrorist attacks against hotels around the world more than doubled in the decade after September 11, 2001, compared to before, and the number of persons killed and injured in attacks climbed six-fold. And yet, fewer than 500 hotel guests worldwide have been killed by terrorists over the past 40 years, out of a total global hotel guest population at any time of nearly 10 million, notes terrorism expert Brian Jenkins.
When conducting or assisting with an analysis of risk to business travelers, and deciding which hotels afford the best security, LP practitioners must balance the threat of terrorism against other safety threats. Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJET International, said that because terrorism remains a low probability threat to international business travelers—far lower than day-to-day criminal activity or fire—it’s still best to stay in international chains because they typically have higher standards for general safety and security.
Research bolsters that view. A research project by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, “The Physical Safety and Security Features of US Hotels,” found higher hotel room rates positively correlate with the presence of physical safety and security measures. “Even when controlling for hotel size, age, location, and price segment, [properties] offering more comprehensive physical safety and security features is associated with the advertising of a higher rate,” according to the study.
Your Duty of Care
Suggesting to corporate travel departments to simply book staff into the most expensive hotel room they can find is probably not the best idea. And the odds are against widespread adoption of official international security standards for hotels, given the vast difference in what constitutes “reasonable security” between a hotel in Grand Cayman and one in Islamabad. So what should you do?
One option is to work with a firm like iJET that conducts security risk assessments for hotel chains and maintains a database of hotel security audits to help corporate clients select accommodations and safely locate their traveling personnel. US embassies are also a resource for business travel safety tips, according to Galindo. “Contact the US embassy regional security officer. These individuals maintain contact with the hotels they’re going to recommend that people stay in. They want to place employees coming to do business at the embassy in the safest possible environment. So, look at what hotels they’re putting their own people into.”
Finally, for the greatest assurance, do it yourself— something that Galindo thinks is a good idea. “There is nothing better than visiting the hotel yourself,” he said.
Business Travel Safety Tips: What to Look For
It’s important to review the safety and security features for any property on a retailer’s recommended travel list for employees, or otherwise gain assurance that the property has security measures sufficient to keep traveling employees safe. From interviews with travel security consultants and the Overseas Security Advisory Council, the items below are high-security measures that some companies prefer to be standardized in the hotels that their personnel frequent in high-risk destinations.
- Adequate setback from street
- Barriers in place, such as concrete planters or tire killers, to prevent vehicles from getting too close to the entrance
- Vehicle access control:
- Denial of access for unauthorized vehicles, or at least restricting access to 50 meters from the hotel entrance
- Inspections of all vehicles, including delivery vehicles
- Denial of parking against or in the front of the building
- Above-ground parking
- Security controls at delivery areas
- Pedestrian access control:
- Bag searches
- Walk-through metal detectors for all those entering the building, such as guests, visitors, and suppliers.
- Luggage inspections using X-ray machines
- On-site security personnel:
- Local police or military, preferably
- Full-time security manager
- Round-the-clock security officer(s) in front of the hotel
- Patrols conducted around the outside perimeter, as well as inside the hotel
- Explosives-detecting dogs
- Surveillance detection program
- Plain-clothes police presence
- Separate staff entrance
- Registration above the ground floor
- Vetted staff
- Adequately trained staff, in areas of:
- Vehicle searches
- Luggage inspection
- Surveillance detection
- Suicide bomber characteristics
- Crisis management
Additional Security Measures
- Anti-shatter film on windows or at least in front lobby windows
- High-quality CCTV cameras, covering all access points
- Restaurant not in open lobby area or easily accessible from street
- Adequate lighting surrounding the hotel
- Availability of secure transportation between the hotel and airports
- Regularly tested smoke detectors/sprinkler systems
- Regularly tested emergency response procedures, such as redundant communications procedures in case phones or computers do not work
- Satellite phones on property
- Adequate evacuation routes from the hotel
- Fire exits and extinguishers clearly marked
- Alarm systems at all points of entry
- Emergency power generators, in good working condition, with adequate access to a fuel supply
- Room selection amenities to look for:
- Emergency procedures printed in all hotel rooms
- A room not directly above the front lobby, if possible
- A room not above floor seven, which would make it harder to get down the stairs in a fire emergency
- Security personnel patrolling hallways
- Rooms whose access by staff is controlled and monitored
- Sprinkler system in room
- Windows/sliding glass doors secured
- Adequate room door security, including privacy locks
Large Meeting Factors
Measures to look for before selecting a hotel to host a large event include:
- Open communication and coordination—before the event—between hotel security staff and company security personnel
- Even tighter restrictions—during the event—on access control to the hotel, including the parking lot and any restaurants within the hotel
- Heightened security around meeting rooms, including security staff patrolling areas outside the room; tight control of staff access to the rooms
Other Questions to Ask
- Is the hotel in a part of town known to have high crime rates, frequent demonstrations, ethnic or political tensions, or any other issues which could lead to violence against individuals or against the hotel?
- Is the hotel located on main roads and surrounded by other high-profile targets, such as foreign embassies or other well-known hotels or restaurants known to attract large numbers of Westerners?
- Is the hotel known to house large(r) numbers of Western tourists or military contractors?
- Are there are any holidays at the time of an employee’s visit that might increase the number of Western tourists further and make the hotel a more attractive target?