03 Oct 10 Hotel Safety Tips from a Former Intelligence Officer
Reprinted from Security Magazine
Throughout my career, I have checked into my fair share of hotels around the world, and whether I am traveling on business or for pleasure, I am always conscious of the fact that hotels are a target for criminals, terrorists and the mentally unstable (think stalkers).
Here is my personal hotel safety checklist.
This saves you time when you arrive. It also means you have to give less information over the counter where other people can hear.
When checking in, I write down my name and phone number and hand it over with a print-out of my reservation, a photocopy of my passport and my credit card for them to swipe. A majority of the time, the hotel staff realize that I am security-conscious, and they keep the conversation to a minimum and are careful not to reveal any personal information out-loud.
Don’t let concierge take your bags. Place your bags down in front of you, not beside or behind.
Request a Floor
I request a room between the second and fourth floors (never the top floor), furthest away from the side of the lobby. The ground floor is too easy to access. The second floor and above usually require your room’s key-card to access the floor, making it more secure. Also, most fire truck ladders can reach up to the second, third and even fourth floors.
Never stay on the top floor. Worst case scenario: your hotel is under attack. They are coming-up from the ground floor through the stairwells. You are on the top floor; where do you go? You can’t go up! Now imagine the same scenario, but you are on the third floor, in a 20-storey hotel. You now have a lot of room to maneuver and hide.
Request a Map
Before you leave reception, ask for a local street map and ask them to mark where the hotel is for you.
After check-in, I go directly to the elevator. Sometimes, depending on where I am, if someone is behind me, I open my laptop bag as if I am searching for something and let them go ahead of me. Other times, I will see if I can go to the floor above instead of the floor I am checked-in on. Again, worst case scenario: if you are being followed, especially for solo female travelers, your would-be stalker/attacker now thinks they know what floor you are on.
Do Not Disturb
As soon as I walk into my room, I put the TV on low, usually on CNN, and leave it on. I put the do-not-disturb sign on the door, and then I leave the room. I walk the floor. I find the fire escape plan, and I follow it. Don’t just assume that because there is a fire escape plan on the wall, that all of the exits will be clear, especially in third-world countries. Know your exits. Typically in larger hotels, there will be escape routes at either end of the floor. Walk both. Learn where each stairwell exits. Does it lead into the hotel lobby or onto the street? Are any of the doors locked or chained? Is there lighting?
I then go back to my room, and I leave the do-not-disturb sign on the door, usually for my entire stay. I also carry two doorstops with me. When I’m in the room, I use one for the main door as it is added security, especially in third-world countries where the locks are not the strongest. If your room has a conjoining door, wedge it closed with the second doorstop. I then place a piece of tape over the peep-hole, and I place a flashlight next to my bed.
I carry a 1,000-lumen LED flashlight for two reasons. Firstly, they illuminate an area from night to day, and secondly, they are incredibly effective at temporarily blinding a would-be attacker, giving you a chance to escape.
I then look out of my window to see what landmarks I can see to orientate myself. I take the street-map I was given at reception, and I take note of the locations of the closest police department, hospital, embassy or consulate (if there is one). Then by the scale of the map, I calculate how long it would take me to get to each on foot, in an emergency. Also, take note of traffic conditions around your hotel at different times of the day. As a tourist, in a taxi, you stand out. If you are in a country with a history of kidnappings or robberies, when you are at a standstill for long periods of time in traffic, you become a target. Also, if there is an emergency and you need to call the police or an ambulance, you can be prepared for a longer than normal wait time.
I never use the hotel safe. They are incredibly easy to break into, and if a hotel room is ever robbed, they are usually the first thing that is targeted. Also, never leave your passport or money under your mattress; it’s usually the second place that thieves search in a hotel.
Leaving the Hotel
When leaving the hotel, be prepared. Walk out of the front door with the confidence that you know where you are going. There is nothing worse than watching someone leave the hotel lobby and look absolutely lost the moment they leave the doors. It makes you a target. Do your best to “blend in.”
While this hotel safety checklist cannot guarantee absolute safety when you travel, it can reduce your chances of an incident happening. If you plan ahead, you reduce your chances of an incident happening, and are better prepared if it does.