On the evening of November 26, 2008, Pakistani terrorists stormed the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai armed with AK47s and grenades with the express intent to inflict mass carnage and death on the some 600 guests staying at the iconic property. The attack was part of a coordinated effort by 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist organization, throughout Mumbai, and included another hotel, the Oberoi Trident.
Thirty-three people were left dead at the hotel when the siege ended, including the wife and two sons of The Taj Palace's general manager; a total of 164 people had been killed throughout Mumbai.
In 2015, I wrote about two more terrorist attacks upon hotels that left scores dead. One happened at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali, killing some 20 people; the other at the Swiss Inn Resort in El Arish, Egypt, where at least seven people lost their lives.
All these attacks had one common thread: they were carried out at or within hotels, where, unlike airports, there is lax if not any entrance security. Hotels, therefore, are the quintessential soft target.
The horrific attack in Las Vegas, where more than 50 people have been reported dead, regrettably, puts hotel security back in focus. A lone gunman, identified by law enforcement as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nev., unleashed a hail of bullets from a 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino upon music-goers at an outdoor festival.
It was the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
It also begs the question: How can a person carry in a small arsenal of weapons right under the nose of a hotel? In this case, it was reported that Paddock, who is believed to have checked into the hotel on Sept. 28, had more than 10 rifles in his hotel room.
How can something as gruesome as this be prevented? The short answer may be, it can't. Marc Faubert, a hotel GM in Minnesota, once said, “You can’t guard against armed gunmen storming your hotel. I don’t care where you live. You can’t build a fortress.”
He may be right. Airports, for instance, provide security for airplanes. It's one point of entry. Hotels don't have that luxury. Imagine a mandate that made guest screening law at every operating hotel in the U.S. X-ray machines scanning every piece of luggage and person. It's not feasible.
“We have no screenings to enter lobbies or guestroom floors, or any other area for that matter,” said Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor with the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. “It would be such a transformational change to apply security in that way to hotels. Security is very good, but the question is does the industry or the public want intrusive security in hotels?”
It's true. Security within hotels is, for the most part, excellent, able to quell problems as they arise. But there are guest arguments and then there are mass shootings. Not nearly the same scope or magnitude.
All too often we as a society are reactive, rather than proactive, and it shows in moments of crisis. The destruction caused by the recent hurricanes highlighted holes in the nation's engineering and infrastructure, which had they been dealt with prior, may have reduced the damage. There are countless other examples of this.
What, then, should be a hotel's reaction to this type of event? Rather, what can they do now to prevent disaster in the future? Hotels are in the business of experience. Intrusive security measures, such as x-ray machines, would only prove to make for a bad experience. Smaller measures, such as sensors that can tell when a window is broken to notify more than just maintenance, are a good start. (It appears the Vegas gunman knocked out a window to carry out the shooting.)
Video surveillance, meanwhile, helps, but is only permitted in public spaces, not rooms. Training staff to watch out for any "posed threats" can also be fruitful, but has to be done thoughtfully and balanced to remove any biases.
I once asked Bill Marriott why hotels didn’t charge for cancellations in the same manner that airlines do. His response: “Because we are in hospitality.” I have no doubt he'd have the same response here, even knowing the potential price.