ITB 2024 Special Reporting
Under Attack – When the Hotel Transforms into a Trouble Spot.
By Roland Wildberg ~ Weekly Exclusive - Views On The Latest Trends
Friday, 1st February 2013
Exclusive Feature: Dramatic scenes must have happened Wednesday night at the InterContinental Cairo; how can such terrible occurrences in a Hotel be prevented?.

Via Twichty the desperate call for help came about half an hour after midnight: "We are under attack! This is an emergency! Thugs are entering the lobby! Please send help!" From an oasis of leisure into a tremendous trouble spot – the nightmare of every hotelier. And those calls for help do not come from anything like a lonely inn in the desert: The setting is one of Egypt's most famous hotels, posh Intercontinental Semiramis in central Cairo, not far from Tahrir Square.

It is attacked without warning by a rampaging mob, and nobody seems to worry about it. The brave personnel barricade themselves in offices, while nearly 40 bats entering the lobby. Half an hour later the hotel staff set off other emergency services through the short messaging platform: "A large group of rioters in the building, destroying barriers and breaking down doors! Please help us!" The attackers are equipped with semi-automatic weapons, at least one shot is fired at a escaping security guard. Their first target is a cash machine on the ground floor, they are trying to crack it.

At last, about 2:00 at night the police forces arrive and evacuate the building. Later, 22 suspects were arrested. When morning rolls in over the Nile, the extent of damage is visible: The mob has smashed the giant, formerly elegant lobby of the best address in Cairo completely. On the floor glisten sharp-edged fragments, tables are overturned. Fortunately, not a hotel guest, and no one by the staff has been injured.

This is a major blow to the Egyptian tourism: One of the most famous buildings in the city is apparently not sufficiently secured against the conditions on the road. Since it seems like bitter irony that at the same time the local management of Intercontinental in a worldwide job ad is seeking security men. The bill got the crisis-ridden country a few hours later, as many Western states spoke a clear travel warning.

Safety is critical in the hospitality industry. A few years ago destinations like Syria or Egypt were considered literally bombproof sites. In the last two years witnessed this and many regions any unexpected deterioration in security conditions. Companies are demanding safety systems at their partner hotels and do inspect them regularly. And they are responding with tighter travel rules, too: Many international companies make their business travelers, for example, the requirement to leave the safe open at night - so a thief can access without the hotel guest blackmail the number code.

Also, many companies claim that their guests never refer a room directly above the lobby - out of concern for fighting or bombings in public areas. Until recently, it would have the authors of such seemingly adventurous travel regulations assumed to have a maybe too vivid imagination - but today such rules of action have become sad necessity.

What can a hotelier or hotel manager pro-actively do to avoid being a victim of escalating conditions on the road? Well, make yourself prepared: In new buildings, security is increasingly becoming a part of the architecture: Parallel to the construction plan is building an integrated security concept, which exploits all the tools of the present. In the Middle East such Physical Security Integrated Management (PSIM) are already standard - including biometric input controls.

Often such control systems with cameras and motion sensors are already in place, it lacks only a mobile control unit for central operation, Mike Parry, a representative of the British Security Industry Association, recently stated in an interview. What he does not say: In most parts of the world hotel guests want to relax and not be observed and shadowed by cameras. Accordingly, the security technology is in unobtrusive position, also fences and gates should not act too menacing - because who wants to take holidays behind barbed wire?

Cost is critical: "The investment in electronics and unbreakable fences can be so high that sometimes investors shy away from," says Michael Hartmann, who at big electronics company Siemens is responsible for security and surveillance systems. For international chains also a news service with ad hoc reports on crises, terrorist attacks and natural disasters makes sense that, for example, the company A3M is offering.

Even better, the Marriott Way: The legendary hotel chain has its own intelligence and security system. It works 24 hours and is completely independent of local services - "because in many destinations there is nothing comparable, so we need to give to our own services and standards leave" as a high manager of Marriott explains. It is good that you can at least rely on yourself.


This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.

Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry always has fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing – work-live-balance as its best.

Roland also heads the annual 4Hoteliers ITB Berlin news micro-site journalist and video/photo teams. For more info: www.4Hoteliers.com/itb
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