Over the course of my career, I’ve stayed at countless hotels in active war zones and peaceful countries. But are hotels safe?
Well, yes and no. Regardless of where I am in the world, I implement a security system at every hotel I use. The reason being is that hotels can cause a very false sense of security.
Due to the obvious reluctance of hotel management to reveal how risky their establishment is to stay at, it’s difficult to obtain reliable statistics on crimes committed in hotels.
However, after airports, hotels are the primary magnet for foreigners abroad and are often an object of criminal observation and activity.
Regardless of how well-established your chosen hotel brands are, never automatically assume that a hotel is safe.
Forming a solid but non-intrusive security procedure to follow when staying at any hotel allows you to ensure personal safety at your accommodation and peace of mind both when you sleep and leave the room with your belongings inside.
I’ll give you a brief insight into my own personal security protocols when staying at hotels anywhere in the world before breaking down each stage and the motive behind it.
A Case Study of Basic Hotel Security
After arriving at the airport through a pre-arranged driver, I make my entrance into the hotel as discreet as possible.
At the check-in desk, I politely greet the receptionist but ensured to keep my voice low when speaking in such common areas.
I hand over my printed booking confirmation and ID together. The receptionist hands me my key card in a paper sleeve with the room number on it; I memorize the number and discreetly remove the sleeve and discard it in the trash bin.
As I enter the elevator, I’m joined by who I assume is one of the other hotel guests. I’m staying on floor three but choose floor five and take the stairs to my floor.
Once in my room, I lock the door and check the windows and how far they open out before setting up my laptop on the desk.
I need a shower, but before I go into the bathroom, I reach into my security bag and bring out two-door stops and place them firmly under the door at an angle to ensure they don’t protrude from the other side.
After my shower, I do some work on my laptop, and shortly after, I get the urge for a coffee and a bite to eat.
Before I leave the room, I open a compass app on my phone and next to the USB ports on either side of my phone, I leave a pen facing North West on the right side and a coffee cup with the handle facing South on the left side.
I grab my notepad and place it facing East next to the chair’s backrest. As I leave my room, I grab the do not disturb sign in English on one side and in the local language on the other.
I use the local language side so as not to advertise an English-speaking person is staying in the room.
As I close the door, I make sure a tiny section of the corner of the sign is ever so slightly stuck in between the door and the frame.
Stage 1 – Check-in and choosing your room:
The majority of hotel crimes will begin in the lobby and end in your room and security in the room starts by not looking like a target in the lobby.
When you’re checking into a hotel don’t present yourself as a readable target. A guy with his back to you at the hotel bar could be surveying you through a reflection and deciding whether to target you or notify an accomplice.
Carrying expensive baggage means you have more expensive items inside, and announcing you are a certain nationality can bring stereotypical connotations of wealth, especially in impoverished countries.
Handing over a printed booking confirmation and your ID together means you don’t have to announce your name, nationality and check-out date as is expected of the staff to ask.
Most hotels provide a paper wallet for your key card with the room number on it, memorize it and destroy it; if you lose the key card in the paper wallet, you’ve just provided someone with an easy access route to your belongings in your room, and the blame will likely entirely be on you when it comes to insurance.
Whilst choosing your room is all relative to the type of hotel you’re staying in, let’s assume that you’re staying in a multi-story hotel.
It’s good protocol to choose a room between the 3rd and 6th floor and close to a fire exit. Most robberies happen on the first or second floor to ensure a quick getaway.
Firetruck ladders can often struggle to reach above the 6th floor of a multi-story building. In a fight or flight scenario, creating an escape route is important in case you cannot reach the fire exit.
In the event of a terror or shooting attack, they will likely begin in the lobby and work their way up floor by floor.
Stage 2 – Safety protocols for your Hotel room door:
Two-door stops strategically placed under an inward opening door can buy you vital seconds to escape or prepare for self-defence in the event of a room invasion.
If you don’t have access to door stops, you can create a makeshift alarm. Take the two complimentary glasses that are often featured in hotel rooms and stack them, one on top of the other, just in front of the hotel door.
If an assailant attempts to break through, they’ll knock over and break the glasses alerting you and giving you a vital head start.
Stage 3 – Discrete Alignment:
Whilst conventional theft is still a very real and present threat, we also live in an age where cybercrime is responsible for over $2.1 trillion in losses globally.
In certain countries, hotels obtain a second income by providing intelligence on foreign guests to their government.
The chances are you will be carrying a laptop, camera or other personal electronic items with you whilst staying at a hotel.
These items will be highly loaded with personal data that can be taken advantage of or used against you.
Whilst it’s best never to leave any personal electronic equipment in a room when you aren’t there, if you cannot bring them with you, then you can utilize a technique known as discreet alignment.
Discreet means you naturally use the objects around you and align them using a compass app or simply the width of your hand or a finger around strategic points, such as next to the USB ports on your laptop or your phone and make a personal note of where you left them.
If you return and find them tampered with, you can take appropriate measures to protect yourself.
Stage 4 – Health and safety when Sleeping / Leaving the room:
First of all, check the adjustability of the windows in your room; in the event of a fire or assailants trying to force their way into your room, your best option is to try and get out of there if you have the means to do so.
It’s always good practice to utilize the do not disturb sign in the foreign language as a basic method to throw people off your trail and leave fewer clues that there is a foreigner in the room.
During the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, during which many hotels were targeted by a heavily armed Jihadist terror cell, it’s said that some of the attackers targetted hotel rooms with the do not disturb signs displayed in English as it was a sure sign that there were foreign guests inside.
By discreetly leaving the corner of the sign between your door and the frame, if you return and find the sign out of the frame, it’s a good indicator that somebody has been inside the room.
As you leave the room, grab a spare roll of toilet roll and place it over the handle on the inside of the door.
The most common way to break into a hotel is to insert a wire underneath the door and pull the handle from the inside; the toilet roll will make it extremely difficult to pull the handle down and prolong the operation making it more likely for the assailant to be caught in the process.
Who knew that a simple toilet roll could be turned into a piece of potentially protective equipment in hotels?
A key factor with all of these security procedures and safety protocols is that none of them will prevent a fast exit in the event of fire or hotel staff entry in case of an emergency.
In accordance with the other teachings in this book, don’t switch off your situational awareness after following these techniques.
After you have secured your room and are leaving the hotel, be switched on and walk out of the front door with the confidence that you know where you are going.
You make yourself a target if you leave the hotel lobby and look completely lost when you leave the doors.
So, Are Hotels Safe? They Can Be If Don’t Let Your Guard Down
So, to sum up: Hotels can be a place of safety in volatile countries around the world. But they’re far from being out of the crosshairs of crime, violence, and terrorism.
Always ensure you keep your guard up at hotels. By implementing some of the health and safety measures and basic security protocols in this guide, you can ensure an additional layer of personal security and safety that can keep you safe.