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Twitter: @red24

red24 is a risk management company delivering a range of products and services to businesses, organisations and individuals around the world. Part of these services includes a full suite of travel safety and crisis management services.

This week’s analysis originally ran as a security briefing from red24 and is reproduced with their kind permission. 

Hotel security: Staying safe abroad

This article is an updated version of the red24 Security Briefing issued on 24 August 2015.

red24 focuses on a number of risk areas for clients travelling or operating abroad. Generally, this includes a customised security risk assessment for the destination, including an evaluation of the risks of transiting the intended travel area. red24 also focuses significantly on where its clients intend to stay. Hotels and guesthouses are key components in the overall security consideration as travellers are likely to spend a large portion of their time in-country at their accommodation. The choice of hotel could therefore increase or mitigate exposure to risk.

Persons residing in hotels or guesthouses are often imbued with a false sense of security. These facilities are viewed as safe havens and retreats, separated from the security risks in a travel area; however, as demonstrated by several recent incidents, hotels are often the prime targets for non-state armed groups. Since mid-2015, there have been multiple attacks reported against hotels in Africa, North Africa and Asia. The incidents are listed below.

  • 01 June 2016: Al-Shabaab militants attacked the Ambassador Hotel in central Mogadishu. At least 16 people, including two members of Parliament, were killed.
  • 21 March 2016: Unidentified gunmen attacked and attempted to enter the Azalai Nord Sud Hotel in Bamako, Mali. The attack was thwarted by security guards, who killed one of the attackers. Two others were detained.
  • 13 March 2016: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and militants aligned with Al-Mourabitoun attacked a beach resort in Grand-Bassam, Cote d’Ivoire, killing 18 people and wounding 30 others.
  • 15 January 2016: Militants aligned with AQIM and Al-Mourabitoun attacked a restaurant and the Splendid Hotel and YibiHotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The attack left 30 people dead and over 50 wounded.
  • 12 December 2015: Taleban insurgents launched an attack on a guesthouse attached to the Spanish Embassy in Kabul. The attack left two Spanish security guards and four Afghan police officers dead, in addition to the attackers. The attack took place in the Sherpoor area of the city.
  • 7 August 2015: Militants linked to Al-Murabitoon took a number of hostages at the Byblos Hotel in the central Malian town of Sevare. The incident concluded following a security force raid; there were at least 13 fatalities, including five UN workers.
  • 26 July 2015: An al-Shabaab suicide bomber attacked the Jazeera Hotel in Mogadishu, killing ten people.
  • 26 June 2015: A lone gunman aligned to the Islamic State (IS) attacked foreign tourists at hotels in Port El Kantaoui, in Tunisia, killing 39 people.

Higher-end hotels are prime targets for militant groups, often because of the clientele known to frequent these facilities, such as foreign nationals or local VIPs. The high-profile nature of such locations will also ensure that an attack will garner media attention, while some hotels may also be symbols of what an extremist group is fighting against, such as those with an anti-capitalist or anti-Western ideology. Another consideration is that many facilities may be softer and easier targets than an embassy or key government building. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Hotels are often located in bustling commercial areas where adequate defensive security is impossible, difficult or too expensive to implement.
  • Hotel management is aware that too much security may deter some patrons from residing at the hotel.
  • In many third-world or developing states, basic safety and security standards are non-existent or are poorly implemented and maintained.

The key concern among security providers offering advice to travellers on which hotel to choose is whether to advise residing in higher-profile hotels or lower-profile facilities. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Higher-profile and upmarket hotels are more likely to have adequate security in place; however, such facilities are also a more probable target for militants. Lower-profile residences, such as guesthouses, are generally at a lower risk of being targeted but often have less security in place.

The first step is to be aware of the inherent risks involved in your travel or operating area to your person and property. red24 can provide clients with a comprehensive and indepth assessment of the security risks in their travel area. Secondly, remain cognisant of the fact that these general risks extend to your hotel; ensure that any recommendations linked to the analytical and security assessments are consistently implemented. Finally, choose a hotel with adequate security relative to the risks.

In countries where the overall risk is high or extreme or where the terrorism risk is considered high or extreme, it is essential that accommodation has the following basic features, be it a high- or low-profile facility:

  • 24-hour physical security, including uniformed and casually clothed guards.
  • Perimeter fencing or access control. CCTV cameras should be monitoring all access points, including resupply points.
  • Shatter-resistant windows.
  • Emergency response measures, including means to detect and/or mitigate the threat posed by bombs (planted or delivered via vehicle or body).

It should be noted that many of these features will only be known if your security provider has conducted a full on-the-ground assessment or if the measures have been confirmed by a trusted local contact. It is important to understand that many hotels are unlikely to offer this information due to security concerns, such as leaking sensitive security data to potential attackers, or reputational risk should they not have security in place.

Once a hotel or guesthouse is chosen, there are also various considerations to select a room that ensures the lowest exposure to risk.

  • Select a room between the third and sixth floors. Rooms on the ground, first and second floors are more accessible to thieves and are more likely to be affected by a terrorist attack. The sixth floor is the maximum height accessible to fire department ladders.
  • Familiarise yourself with the hotel fire and safety instructions and know the location of the nearest fire exit and stairway. On arrival, test the emergency exits and ensure that there are no obstructions or barriers to exit, should the need arise to evacuate.
  • Attacks against hotels usually occur in the foyer or lobby of the building. Car bombs are often placed in the street outside the front of building, or driven towards the main entrance. As such, it is wise to choose a room that is not front-facing, and to minimise time spent in lobbies, the front desk, and at entrances.

If in the vicinity of an explosion, it is essential to avoid the primary zone of detonation, as secondary devices could target first responders or emergency personnel. The blast may also only be the start of an attack, and could be followed by a gun assault. If you hear shooting, move in the opposite direction and try to put as much distance as possible between yourself and the gunfire. Call the emergency services once a safe distance away. If in a building when shooting breaks out, look for an exit; if you cannot leave the building, hide in a room, lock or barricade the door and stay as quiet as possible.

Ensuring awareness of in-country risks, including to your hotel, and implementing mitigating measures is essential for travellers, particularly in high- and extreme-risk countries. As demonstrated by recent incidents, hotels without adequate security are more susceptible to devastating attacks. Persons seeking additional guidance should contact red24 directly.

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