Another excellent article by my good friend, Rick Davis. Good security advice in general that applies to more than just hotels and traveling.
HOTEL SECURITY by Rick Davis
Your concerns about security in a hotel should begin when picking an area of town to stay in. Some of my industrial clients were in a less secure part of town than the central business district. I always stayed in the central business district, because of access to travel amenities and desirable meeting locations. In most cases, people were glad to come meet me in the central business district. If not, taxis, etc were available from my hotel, and I got the phone number to call for them to come back for me after the meeting. Remember to avoid taxis encountered on the street because they may take you to their criminal friend’s neighborhood to be robbed.
A lot of hotels will pretend to not have a reservation for you. I always got a reservation through a booking agent and prepaid the first night’s stay and got a receipt before leaving home for my trip. Only twice was I denied the stay… the first time in La Paz, Bolivia and another passenger offered to share his room so I accepted gratefully and used my receipt to pay for it. The desk clerk had clearly exceeded his authority to let another guest overstay his reservation and had probably already pocketed the overstaying guest’s money, since I had prepaid the room. He based his refusal to oust the overstaying guest due to the lateness of the hour, because our flight was 6 hours late in arrival, and it was 4am. Another time, in Caracas, another 6 hours late arrival caused the clerk to refuse to give me a room and offered to put me up 45 minutes away in an unsavory part of town. I explained that since I had prepaid, I would take my travel blanket and bed down on a couch in the lobby, because I had Asian and European visitors coming to a breakfast meeting (in less than 4 hours) and I didn’t know how to contact them. I proceeded to go to sleep on the couch and was awakened in 45 minutes as the clerk implored me to please go up to the room they had cleared for me at 4am. I requested clean sheets and towels and headed up to my room. Without my receipt in this case and the receipt PLUS a kind stranger in La Paz, I would have been seriously inconvenienced.
Once you have picked an area, it is a good idea to make a point of being on the first 3 – 5 residential floors of the building. It is possible to run downstairs to evacuate the building in the event of an emergency… or, upstairs if the power is out and the elevators don’t work. In the Mumbai attacks, hotel guests on the lower floors had a better survival rate, per my sources. Upper floors have less threat from crime, due to tougher access and escape facilities. A good, strong door is important… solid-core wood or metal doors are important considerations when picking a hotel, along with a way to lock out people with pass keys while you are in the room. You may prefer to stay in a high floor for special amenities… just be sure to play the “what if… ” game in your head to figure out what to do in the case of an earthquake, fire or other “lights out” situation.
When approaching your hotel room… keep your head on a swivel to note anyone paying special attention to you. As you get to your floor, if any suspicious person entered the elevator with you, consider going past your floor and walking down the stairs one flight. ALWAYS check a stairwell door to make sure it can be opened from the stairwell, because some stairwells are locked from the stairwell side so you cannot exit until you arrive at the lobby level. Please don’t be concerned if you appear a bit goofy, walking around in the hallway, checking stairwell doors and re-entering the elevator.
Also, if you notice you are being stalked on your floor, consider going past your room to the end of the hall… turn and face the other person and ask them if they are a guest of the hotel , since they have not entered any room on that floor. It is best not to open your hotel room door with a possible attacker near… it is easier to defend yourself in an open hallway where the criminal may be too leery of the noise factor to attack
VALUABLES are best stored at the front desk lock boxes when you leave the room for more than a few minutes. The room lockbox is of limited use. Not all deposits in the front desk lock boxes are covered with loss insurance… NONE of the room lock boxes are covered of which I am aware.
ONCE YOU ARE IN YOUR ROOM consider never opening the door unless the party trying to enter has been properly identified. You can always ask a hotel employee to wait while you check with the operator/front desk/security office to verify the visit is legitimate… unless, of course, you requested a visit by hotel staff. Still, if you do not personally know the person, put the security short chain or other device on the door while you check them out. Beware that there are peephole reversers that allow one to be viewed from outside the room, so carrying some tape product that will help you secure the peephole from exterior view is a good idea. A lady sports reporter was recently filmed through such a device recently in a famous stalking case.
Once a thug is in your hotel room with you, they no longer have to worry about security. They quickly take control and can torture you or your loved ones without mercy until everyone opens the safe, discloses the hidden goodies, coughs up the car keys, ATM cards, credit cards and PIN numbers. They may force someone to go downstairs with them to get the really good stuff hidden in the lock box at the front desk, or to the bank to withdraw a large sum of cash. They take all your personal electronics which can be mined for online account info, the names of your friends and family that they call on the phone threatening to kill you unless they receive $50,000 or more cash in a couple of hours… know as an “express kidnapping” in Latin America. So, try to not scoff at this advice. You have the right to refuse to allow access to your hotel room until the visitor has been identified beyond a shadow of a doubt as to their official need to enter your room. Don’t enter a potential nightmare situation where you are beaten and robbed and your loved ones terrorized, your private property loaded into your car and driven off by thieves leaving you sobbing and bleeding tied up and immobilized on the rug in a hotel room with the blinds closed, the “do not disturb” sign on the locked door, and the phone rendered inoperative… all because you are trying to be a nice person and help the “hotel employee” who is just trying to do his job.
KEEPING SAFE in a hotel room is often taken for granted by many travelers. While some people make fun of my apparent paranoia, I have never been awakened in the middle of the night with a knife at my throat as has happened to people I know. There are small battery powered door alarms available inexpensively on the net, Amazon, eBay etc. It is a good idea to carry several of them with you to apply at all doors and large windows. Therre are small battery powered security alarms that look like a pager that fit on your belt, and I know people who were attacked and escaped by means of an ear-splitting shriek of a personal protection alarm. My fav is a simulated cell phone with a flashlight, an alarm and electrodes that can impart 100,000 volts with enough amperage to drop a steer. A cop friend said he would pretend to be talking on the cell phone as a threat approached and when the thief said “gimme your cell phone” the natural actions of a person in compliance would get you close enough to drop the thief. Warning… not legal in some jurisdictions, so I carry large plastic tie wraps with me in my hat sweatband so I can cuff the bad guy to an inanimate object after incapacitating him and escape. If you are worried about the guy suffering from extreme weather, call the 911 equivalent and be sure NOT to leave them my name as the mystery caller. It sounds funny, but my business card has been used by other people for nefarious reasons.
TRICKSTERS AND CON ARTISTS take hundreds of millions of dollars away from travelers every year. Some hotels use electronic key cards that are used to open the door, then are used to insert into a control box to operate the lights, tv, etc in the room. There is a scam where a guy wearing khakis shows up claiming to be from maintenance and needing to come into the room to check out the keybox. They enter the room and request the guest’s security keycard, which they palm, and substitute another key card that is NOT for this room, as all key cards for that hotel work in all keyboxes… but, will not open the guest’s room door. So, the thieves wait for the occupants to leave, use the guest’s own room keycard to enter the room, and load up all the valuables, including the contents of the lock box in the room. They have lots of time and privacy to pick the lock. Some crooks target high-end hotels wherein they know the swag will include lots of high-end electronics and possibly cash and jewelry easily fenced. At these hotels, they can afford to send by a cute young lady to offer discount coupons at a local eatery or even a prepaid meal coupon that will keep the guests out of the room at a set time of day for a long period of time to guarantee their long time availability to the guest’s personal property with a higher degree of safety and surety. This means of theft may be circumvented by using the previously described phone verifications with hotel desk, maintenance or security staff. Bad guys disappear fast when you say…”Hold on… I’m checking with your boss to assure this maintenance check is officially authorized.”
WHAT THE HOTEL CROOKS ARE LOOKING FOR.
The number one thing they seek is an easy mark. Try to appear to not be an easy mark. A family with small children will not usually initiate aggressive action against a hotel room invader, but kids are hard to hide. There are limits to what we can do to keep from appearing to be potential victims, but the risk can be mitigated by just staying in a higher level hotel where site security and on-site security staff give most criminals pause about targeting their clients. Seeing guys in blazers, ties and slacks with a beefy profile, a communications earbud and a vigilant appearance is a good clue.
Many thugs hang around shopping areas for high end purchases. On many occasions, they followed the victim from the store parking lot to the hotel, and can target the vehicle or the hotel room, based on what they think may be available to steal. Being especially well dressed or exhibiting large quantities of expensive jewelry will make a thug mark you for a victim.
When you leave the room, try to remember to place the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door. This is not possible on some doors with electronic locks, so I have 2 DO NOT DISTURB signs I have stolen (Hmmmm!) from previous hotel stays. One fits in the electronic key card slot and the other has a hook to hang off the door handle. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES would I turn the sign around to the MAKE UP THE ROOM side unless I was checking out. If you want to get the room cleaned, call housekeeping and advise them.
Also, it’s a good idea to leave the TV and one light on so crooks looking under the door will see light and hear activity in the vacant room.
Avoid the parking lot if possible. Use the valet service, if available. If you have to enter the parking lot, be aware that thugs\hang out there looking for targets of opportunity. Use your normal situational awareness techniques, keep your head on a swivel, keeping your distance from large vehicles and people in the lot. Check the back seat floorboard before putting your key in the lock. Be prepared to reverse your course and return to a secure area if you sense danger at any point. There is a lot of crime in parking lots all over the world.