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Going Overseas? Hotel Security Tips for American Travelers

In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden and heightened security around the world, it is reasonable for governments to assume some retaliation against the west. It also is reasonable for travelers to assume the same. The State Department issued a travel alert today, warning Americans traveling or living overseas to be alert and careful for possible anti-U.S. violence.

If history is any indication, many leisure travelers probably will postpone or cancel some of their trips abroad. But business travelers are a different lot, so here are some tips on staying safe when traveling internationally.

Be aware of American-branded hotels
They are, indeed a symbol of the west, and have been targeted before. Does this mean you shouldn't stay there? Not at all.

But safety measures are wise.

  • Always ask for a room below the 8th floor. Why? In the event of a fire or explosion, most fire departments have great difficulty in effectively fighting flames above the 8th floor.
  • Avoid rooms with a view-especially ones that face the front of the hotel. Terrorists like making strong visual statements and almost always they try to detonate explosives in or near the lobby at the front of the hotel. So give me a room facing a rear courtyard.
  • Is there a security perimeter around the entrance to the hotel where cars can be inspected before entering the driveway? If not, if you see a car parked in front of hotel lobby for more than 3 minutes, report it to security.
  • If you see a Do Not Disturb sign hanging from a door for more than six hours-especially during the day-you should at least alert security. Terrorists have used hotel rooms to actually assemble their weapons of destruction before mounting an attack.
  • Be wary of untended bags. This is an issue that hotels need to address. I know of no hotel that consistently scans/inspects bags before check in. I know of no hotel where I can't just walk in, tip the bellman $5 to "watch" or store my bag, and leave. And then trigger an explosion from miles away by cell phone. We let the airport authorities inspect bags, so why not hotels? It's the unattended bags that truly worry me. In other large terrorist explosions, the bombs were almost always triggered by a cell phone to a detonator device inside a remote bag. Without bags being scanned, the likelihood of this scenario improves. Again, this is a no-brainer and a security loophole easy to plug. In the meantime, if you see a bag sitting around untended to, speak up.
Other tips?
  • Act local, stay local, dress local. Immerse yourself as much as possible into the culture of the place you're in. It's not just a sign of respect, but it also allows you to do business in a better environment.
  • Be more alert, wherever you are. International gateway cities like London, Madrid, Jakarta, New York, and Paris likely are ramping up security now. After all, they all have been targets of terrorist attacks. Other potential hotspots, like Mumbai and Islamabad, are also ratcheting up security efforts.
It really gets down to what you as a business traveler can do to improve your own security environment. Indeed, no one can ever totally avoid a terrorist environment. Indeed, no one can ever totally avoid a terrorist attack, just as no one can ever totally avoid being hit by a bus. In both instances, you're not in control of many elements. Being more aware, more alert, when we travel is not only possible...it is imperative to all travelers.

The bottom line here is that the killing of Osama bin Laden will not stop me and many other business travelers from traveling. But it should START or perhaps jump-start the questions we ask, how we interpret what we say, and the other choices we make on the road.

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Photo credit: FBI Most Wanted List
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