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26 Mar, 2007

Brand-Name Hotels More Likely to be Attacked, Say Security Consultants

Internationally-known brand name hotels are more likely to be the target of a terrorist attack than less well-known properties, two security consultants told a travel industry luncheon group last week.

Speaking to the Skal Club of Bangkok, Tom Coghlan, CSP Managing Director and Fred Alimusa, CSP Training Director and Managing Director of Kerberos Co Ltd., said terrorists targetted brand-name properties because it had a better chance of helping them achieve their primary objective — to generate maximum publicity at minimum risk.

“Let’s face it, if your property is named ‘Charlie’s Guesthouse,’ it’s not going to attract much attention,” said Mr Coghlan.

Although that view has long been held in travel industry circles, its public confirmation will upset a few apple carts in the industry.

The prominence of their ‘brand-name’ is a key marketing strategy of the international hotel chains as they seek to grow their business and sign up more management and franchise contracts.

For these brand-names to be considered a contributing factor to heightened risk is a major turnaround. It also sends a different message to those who stay and work in these brand-name properties, especially business travellers working for increasingly security-conscious corporations.

Higher risk also entails higher insurance premiums.

No names were mentioned during the talk or the discussion that followed, but none of the industry members in the audience were in any doubt about which “internationally-known brand name” hotels were being referred to.

The talk offered some interesting insights into how the security consultants are honing their marketing skills as they target the travel & tourism industry as a primary revenue source. Many of them have retired from their full-time jobs and are now roaming the world in search of business, for which there appear to be limitless prospects in view of the ongoing “war on terror.”

Travel industry officials say they are being inundated with salesmen trying to sell them CCTV cameras, X-ray scanners, fingerprinting machines, training programmes, etc – all business that is worth billions of dollars but being carefully positioned as an “investment” rather than a cost.

The talk began with an elaborate reading of the two consultants’ qualifications and expertise in the US and UK military and police as well as worldwide experience. Both shared a common expertise in handling and training explosives-detecting dogs.

First came an explanation of the benefits of higher security which was positioned as being a critical component part of the overall service proposition to the guests in order to make them feel safe. Then came an alert that hotels are considered prime terrorist targets because they are public places with lots of movement and numerous places of entry and exit.

They cited the “high security risk” in Thailand from terrorists who were alleged to be getting help from “Muslim countries in the region” and were believed to be behind the city-wide blasts last New Year’s eve.

Then came an explanation of the nature of the threat – various kinds of explosives like Semtex, a “small fingernail worth of which could ring down an entire airliner”, and others that could be disguised as oversized play-dice, all of which could easily be smuggled into hotels past unsuspecting security guards and their “useless” attempts, armed with sticks and mirrors, to inspect cars before they enter the parking lots.

For some audio-visual impact, a videotape was shown of a car blowing up in the middle of a road in an unspecified location, supposedly by suicide bombers.

Then came the solution – explosive-sniffing dogs which are much more reliable than equipment because they “don’t tell lies and can’t be corrupted.” That was followed by a practical demonstration with a member of the audience being asked to hide a small piece of explosive in the hotel garden (so that it would not appear staged) which was then found by the dog.

They said there were more than 19,000 different kinds of explosives but the dogs could sniff them out just by focussing on “five or six” of their key components which could also be detected in a sack of coffee beans, as Colombian drug smugglers try to do.

The security contractors said that no matter what measures were taken, there is no 100 per cent guarantee but “responsible hotels” must do everything possible to upgrade their security so that they terrorists don’t focus on them as an “easy, soft publicity target.”

They also admitted that hotels need to be careful which security contractors they deal with and to ensure that they are “verified by your embassy.”

The consultants were asked about the “operating costs” of having a team of dogs constantly making the rounds. They admitted that being on 24-hour duty could be hugely stressful on the dogs which then had to be deployed in shifts of 20 minutes on followed by 15 minutes off.

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