Thin Red Line Or Red Ink?: Deterring Terrorism
By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | October 2008
While the hospitality industry is experiencing lower occupancy rates since that pivotal day in September 2001, it is at the same time being forced into spending money on higher insurance premiums and/or greater security measures. Perhaps not vast sums of money in the overall scheme of things, but certainly insurance rates doubling in three years is at odds with the need to reduce expenses. The JW Marriott in Jakarta didn't hesitate to do the right thing, however, instituting more stringent security procedures and so saving the day. Not the lives of some of its security personnel, but certainly of the majority of its guests and the integrity of the building itself, which was structurally intact after the car bomb exploded on that day in August 2003.
In August 2004, the hotels on the Strip in Las Vegas (including 18 of the 20 largest hotels in the world) were accused of withholding from the general public the fact that Al Queda low-lifes had been "casing the joint." There was concern reportedly that a public warning might hurt tourism or increase legal liabilities. The casino hotels apparently did increase what was already arguably the tightest security in the industry, but their experience and systems were designed for criminals, not terrorists. One thing is certain, their approach resulted in a PR flap that did little to enhance their image. The fact that these hotels also handed over names and other information on quarter of a million guests to the FBI over the New Year's Eve celebrations 2003/2004 may not have endeared them to those and future guests, either. Dealing with the threat of terrorism isn't easy and was certainly not covered in any great depth during any hospitality training for American hoteliers.
For a look at effective anti-terrorist measures in the hospitality industry, Sea Island provides a better example during the G8 summit in June 2004. A tour-de-force in terms of electronic gadgetry and armed security forces, it was the government not the hotel that drove (and paid for) that security event. Nice if you can get it, but hardly within the budget of any hotel, and certainly the siege mentality was not conducive to the ambiance that generally draws guests to hotels.
So where does this leave hotels? Certainly, terrorists do not make it easy, presenting the prospect of any of a number of ways of creating their effects via an unknown individual at an unknown time. As the homeland security advisor to the governor of Nevada is reported to have said, "We have so little information. We pray a lot." Not to argue with the power of prayer, but a concrete plan would probably sit better with guests, insurers, owners, and employees alike.
Fear is a third-rate motivator employed by weak individuals, so perhaps a better approach to this whole subject of combating terrorism is to view it as a challenge to our intelligence and resourcefulness. Our purpose as an industry is to provide comfort and pleasure to our fellow man and woman. Maybe our goal in providing adequate security, then, should be the retaining of our freedoms and joys, not the fighting of psychotic individuals or the purveying of fear. This may seem like an extraneous piece of philosophy, but any lesser goal on our part lets the terrorists set the rules, makes us play their miserable game.
What's the Problem?