Terror Targets Hotels and Tourism Locations – what to do?

One day when historians of the tourism industry write about the first part of the twenty-first century they may view the week of October 1, 2017 as one of the tourism and travel industry’s harder months.
The week began with news of terrorist attacks in both France and Canada and quickly moved onto the tragedy that took place in Las Vegas.

Many people will desire to know the personal history of Stephen Paddock and what motivated him.  In reality, there are other issues more important than his personal history, and the tourism industry needs to be careful not to allow itself to be seduced into spending a great deal of time on irrelevant facts.  Instead, the tourism industry must concentrate on the most important issue: how do we protect visitors, locals, event attendees, employees, and security and law enforcement agents in an age of uncertainty and violence. These questions and the answers we discover are the lessons that can we learn from the Las Vegas attack. What has happened is now history, and it is our task to help the victims heal as best as they can and seek ways in which the tourism industry together with governments and law enforcement can we work together to prevent future tragedies.

Before examining the situation in Las Vegas it behooves us to review and clarify some important facts to consider.

1) There is a difference between an “acts of criminal terror” and a “terrorist act”.  The former is a terrible act that hurts many people but does not have a political motivation. Terrorism, on the other hand, has a clear political motivation.  Terrorism has specific goals and as such deadly acts are used as part of an overall strategy to achieve those goals.  In the case of Las Vegas we know of no overall political goals.  Instead, the perpetrator may well have acted for personal motives or for reasons of insanity but neither of these are political motives.  Assuming that this is not a terrorist act we shall have to see it as a pure criminal act.

As this article is being written, there is no reason to assume that Stephan Paddock was anything other than a highly mentally disturbed individual.  Should we learn that he had other motivations or political ties then a new analysis regarding the politics will be needed but that analysis will have little to do with enhancing both hotel and event security.

2) Hotels, and other tourism locations are soft targets in an age of terrorism.  Even though at the time of this writing (October 4, 2017) it does not appear that Stephen Paddock had a terrorism connection, the fact that hotels are easy targets should become an important risk management issue.  An attack on a hotel, in most cases, will receive a great deal of publicity and potentially cause a great deal of damage to human beings, to a place’s reputation and to its tourism industry.  This may be one of the reasons that terrorists have attacked hotels in multiple cities around the world.  The fact that hotels have been targeted internationally means that no matter what the reason, hotels and other places of lodging are going to have to have to be creative in how they protect their guests and property.

3) In most cases, architects designed hotels in the western nations during periods of less violence.  Many of these hotels are quite beautiful but also difficult to protect.  For example, hotels with rooms overlooking ground floor atriums are challenges for security personnel.  In a like manner, reception or check-in areas were designed not with security in mind but for customer satisfaction and ease of meetings. The same is true of both valet and self-parking areas.  The heightened need for greater security means that many hotels, and other tourism installations such as stadiums, will need to be retrofitted. Remodeling these structures is both a difficult and expensive process and may take some time to accomplish.

4) In our new age, hotels and other tourism industry locations such as stadiums, museums, and transportation terminals must become aware of a whole series of new potentially devastating weapons of attacks.  These include the use of biochemical weapons, drones, and cyber attacks that can literally bring a hotel to a stoppage.  Furthermore, attack weapons continue to be available in smaller sizes, and this “miniturization” means that any of these weapons may be harder to detect.  As we look into the future, hotel security personnel must become aware of nanotechnology and the fact that powerful weapons can be contained in extremely small spaces.

5) No matter what we do, there is no total security. We can lessen the chance of danger, injury, or death, but no matter what we do, there will always be a risk.

Looking to the future

In order to ease public concerns, some immediate steps should be considered. These are not long-term solutions but act as immediate solutions.  Among these are:

  • High coordination between law enforcement and hotel security personnel. For example, Las Vegas’ police department (Metro) has extremely close relations with its hotel industry and those relations helped to save many lives. Its officers should be commended for their bravery and the outstanding job which they performed.
  • Upgrading the security industry. Security can no longer be seen as merely a great deal of muscle. Security personnel must be trained in a number of psychological and sociological analytics. This means increased budgets, increased attendance at security conferences such as the annual Las Vegas international Safety and Security Conference (to be held in April of 2018), and increase updating of the security issues on both the macro and the micro level.  In today’s world, a criminal or a terrorist can easily slip across borders or travel across oceans.
  • Baggage inspection. It may be impossible to inspect every bag, and even hotels can inspect every bag, there is nothing from preventing a guest to bring in a weapon at a later time or simply under his or her clothing.  However, there is much that can be done by using high levels of creativity.  For example, it may be necessary to use trained dogs and obtain other technical devices that “smell trouble”.  The tourism industry should be working with entrepreneurs to create new less invasive methods that permit privacy but at the same time detect threats and potential problems.
  • Training hotel staffs to be the front line of security. This training may include everything from questioning why a “do not disturb “ sign is on a room door for more than a few hours to notifying security if some seems or smells amiss. Frontline personnel are the eyes and ears of a tourism entity such as a hotel.
  • The tourism and the security industry must be careful not to become overly reactive to the “last” event.  What occurred in Las Vegas is now history.  It is essential to help the victims rebuild their lives to the best extent possible. Tourism officials, none the less, need to prepare for future events and think through how the tourism industry will face future challenges not yet considered.  It would do everyone in tourism to consider how an act of terrorism or a criminal act may impact all sectors of a local industry. The bottom line is that what occurred in Las Vegas can occur in almost any city or resort around the world.  All of us must be careful not to politicize a tragedy but learn from it and then seek to understand future problems and find ways to mitigate these risks with diligence and clarity of thought and purpose.

Dr. Peter Tarlow is an expert on tourism security and economic development. His email is [email protected] and his website is <tourismandmore.com>