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Seeking Hotel Safety in a Conflict Zone.
By Jennifer Collins ~ Weekly Exclusive - Global Views On Recent Trends
Tuesday, 1st April 2014
 
Exclusive Feature: Sniffer dogs, 24-hour armed security, seven-meter high perimeter walls and bunkers are not usually things you expect to find in a hotel, but if you find yourself planning a trip to a part of the world where the security situation could be described as 'tense', security features rather than comfort or a happening location will be your primary concern.

Recently, myself and a colleague found ourselves in just such a situation when we received our visas for a trip to Kabul. While the Afghan capital is relatively stable compared to other parts of the conflict-ridden country, attacks by Taliban insurgents do happen and have been increasing in the run up to the presidential elections in April.

Once we'd booked our flights, we were faced with the tasked of finding accommodation in a city where hotels have been a target for attacks.

We began our search by getting in touch with some locals and ex-pats to ask their opinions about the best neighborhoods, a reasonable price range and what we should be looking for in a hotel or guest-house. Opinions varied but ultimately, we opted for a small, five-room guest-house in a quiet area of town.

The Afghans4Tomorrow guest-house had good reviews on TripAdvisor with reviewers writing that it was safe, had an armed guard and also provided a pick-up and drop-off service to and from the airport – a must in Kabul.

As reporters, the guest-house also suited our needs because we wanted to have contact with locals and because Afghans4Tomorrow runs a number of education, health and environmental projects to help rebuild the country.

The guest-house itself is nondescript, blending in with the homes around it, all of which are fortified with high walls and secure entrances. The friendly and hospitable staff were extremely concerned with guest safety and provide a translator and driver for visitors who want to tour the colorful, noisy, chaotic city that is Kabul and interact with the wonderful Afghanis.

But guest-houses aren't the only option. Some of those we spoke with recommended staying in one of Kabul's many heavily-fortified compounds.

Somewhat reminiscent of military camps, secure compounds, such as The Baron, offer lodgings to foreigners, including aid-workers, security-consultants, journalists and the more intrepid traveler. They have become increasingly popular as international military forces wind down their presence in the country and the fear of insurgent attacks increases.

In addition to the usual amenities, such as conference rooms, landscaped gardens, broadband, a restaurant (with decent Italian buffet, which we tried), a gym and salon, the Baron also has bomb shelters, huge concrete perimeter walls topped with barbed wire, guard towers, sniffer dogs used to detect explosives and on-site clinics.

Kabul also has a number of large chain hotels, such as the Intercontinental and Serena, which are not in compounds but have heavy-duty security apparatus in place. Despite the security checks, both hotels have been targeted in Taliban attacks and we decided it was best to stay away from high-profile hotels popular with Afghan government officials and foreigners.

During our stay in Kabul, armed gunmen managed to penetrate the Serena's security and opened fire in the hotel's restaurant, popular with foreigners and United Nations staff, tragically killing nine people.

Of course, the guest-house was the right personal choice for us, but may not be for everyone. Some may prefer a highly-secured compound or hotel. There are no guarantees when traveling to conflict and post-conflict countries like Afghanistan, where the security risks are high, and there is no substitute for research, getting in touch with people who have worked and traveled there and keeping updated with the latest security situation.

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.

Jennifer Collins is a reporter based in Berlin, Germany. She previously worked as a local journalist and arts and culture editor in her home town of Dublin, Ireland and now works with journalists around the world as part of the international journalism organisation, Associated Reporters Abroad. Jennifer enjoys travelling slowly, mainly by train, sampling local street food and people-watching from cafes in far-flung lands.
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