Earlier this summer, federal officials received intelligence about
a possible terrorist attack at three Boston hotels over Memorial
Officials at the three hotels were warned, but other hoteliers
in Boston knew nothing until after the threat was discredited.
Details were never released.
But the situation raised troubling questions for the hotel
industry as a whole: If one hotel is threatened, shouldn’t all
hotels at the very least those in the same community be
Joseph McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel &
Lodging Association, thinks so, and recently the association joined
the Real Estate Information Sharing and Analysis Center. The
center, a coalition linked to the Department of Homeland Security,
is intended to facilitate sharing more information about threats to
the lodging industry.
The center’s Web site (www.reisac.org) posts warnings and
bulletins on the tactics of terrorists. A recent bulletin, for
example, urged building owners to monitor official uniforms, badges
But, with the two-year anniversary of Sept. 11 approaching, the
hotel industry continues to struggle with the balance between
hospitality and security.
The more restrictions put into place to keep guests safe, the
less welcoming a hotel may feel.
Yet the recent bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta has again
reminded hotel operators just how vulnerable they are.
McInerney said that every hotel, from the biggest to the
smallest, has some security plan in place, with more emphasis at
hotels in higher-risk areas, and, perhaps, during certain
Joining the center will give hotel operators more industry
specific information about potential threats, said McInerney.
If an incident like the one in Boston happened again, for
example, the lodging industry would hear about it through the
alliance. Also, hotel operators will also be able to report
suspicious activities or threats to the Department of Homeland
“Terrorism is the most significant challenge we’ve ever had,”
said Ray Ellis, a professor and director of the Loss Prevention
Management Institute at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and
Restaurant Management at the University of Houston.
Ellis advocates more training for hotel staff members, from
parking valets to front-desk clerks, so they can become “eyes and
ears” for the security force. Many hotels also have increased their
use of closed-circuit TV, a measure that initially was used for
theft prevention long before Sept 11.
Other general trends that are emerging:
" More hotels are requiring guests to show photo identification
when checking in.
" Hotels in urban areas are likely to say they will store
luggage only for registered guests.
" Hoteliers are increasingly likely to check on guests who hang
“do not disturb” signs on their doors for long periods.
" And, in general, hotels are being more vigilant about
reporting illegal activities, according to Stephen Barth, an
attorney who is professor of law and leadership at the Conrad N.
Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Barth, who founded HospitalityLawyer.com, a Web site for
industry executives on security issues, noted that hotels are
legally required to provide “reasonable care” to protect guests and
staff members from any “foreseeable” threat. But with terrorism, he
added, “The real issue is there’s only so much they can do.”
Barth said he believes the hotel industry has not yet found that
elusive balance between hospitality and security.
Since Sept. 11, hotels have cut staffing, including security
But cuts in security budgets have not been excessive, and some
hotels are spending much more on security, said Cathy A. Enz, Lewis
Schaenman professor of innovation and dynamic management at Cornell
University’s School of Hotel Administration.
Enz has been studying changes in safety and security features in
the U.S. hotel industry since Sept. 11.
One study of 2,123 hotels in late 2001, found key safety and
security amenities varied widely, depending on the size, age, price
segment, hotel type and location.
About one-third of responding hotels scored highly on both
safety (protecting people) and security (protecting property and
guests’ possessions, as well as staff and guests’ personal safety).
Luxury and upscale hotels had the highest scores, while economy and
mid-priced hotels scored the lowest.
In another study, Enz found that some hotels had changed safety
and security staffing and procedures since Sept. 11.
And a new law may encourage a greater level of change: The
Public Safety Investment and Protection Act of 2003 will allow
building owners to immediately deduct 50 percent of the costs of
security equipment put in place before 2005.
One problem in the quest for increased security post-Sept. 11,
Enz said, is the diversity and fragmentation of the hotel
“Who is responsible for ensuring safety? The hotel owner, who’s
on the other side of the world? The management company? The
In the end, she said, “It’s extremely difficult for someone to
plan and design a safety system around the unknown.
“Terrorism is a random act of violence,” said Enz. “How do you
secure a public space?”