Hotel Safety: 13 Insider Safety Tips You Need to Know

April 9, 2014 - By Will Powell

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AS Solution has been advising major hotel chains on security and fire safety issues for a number of years. Along the way, we’ve seen some of the best practices in the world – and unfortunately, some of the worst, too. This blog offers some inside hotel safety tips that all travelers should know so they can put forward thinking to work for them even as they sleep.

Over the last few years we’ve been involved in quite a few fire and hotel safety projects throughout Africa and the Middle East. We do everything from audits to large-scale consultancy projects for individual sites and entire hotel chains. Often, hotels ask us to get involved before breaking ground on greenfield projects and major renovations, but they’re also interested in tweaking existing programs and facilities to improve guest safety.

At AS Solution, our approach to hotel safety and security is eminently practical. Sure, we know our US NFPA and our British Standards, but the advice we give is not least based on many years of providing security services for clients who travel a lot – including in developing countries where in some places the threat level is high.

Our EP services typically include checking the hotels where our clients, no matter how busy their schedule is, inevitably end up spending the night and often even more time for meetings and conferences. Hotels are simply an important part of the overall EP formula. We advance all the hotels where our clients will stay, identify weak spots in the security and fire safety setups, and make whatever changes to the set up that we feel are necessary to mitigate the weaknesses and ensure client security and well being.

Keep reading for a few of the things we’ve learned along the way. We hope the hotel safety tips are useful for you and yours as you travel to new places safely and securely.

Choose the right hotel

The single most important thing you can do to ensure your all-round safety at a hotel is… to choose the right hotel. OK, this sounds like a no-brainer, but let us explain.

Basically, you will never have the information necessary to determine a hotel’s overall security level by checking its website. You won’t know how they set up a security perimeter and maintain its integrity; you’ll have no idea how they vet or train staff; you’re probably not even interested in learning about all the food-borne pathogens that they keep out of your breakfast.

The one thing you can do is to choose a hotel that’s part of a large, successful international chain. Sorry to all of those charming bed and breakfasts and wonderful boutique hotels; many of you do a great job at all kinds of things, but as security consultants we like the standardization and follow-up that the big chains bring to the task. The majors apply the same standards no matter whether the hotel is in East Africa or on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And everything else being equal, these places are going to be a safer bet when you’re off the beaten track.

Top hotel safety tips:

  • If you’re in an unfamiliar city and security is a concern, choose a hotel that’s part of an international chain. Unlike smaller or independent hotels, they usually have decent and even very good security standards that are the same no matter where you go.
  • If you’re a corporate travel department and still in doubt about where to book, ask AS Solution or your international EP provider for a recently updated shortlist of the safest hotels in town.

Be a smart guest

Hotels are interesting places that are full of contrasts and security pitfalls. On the one hand, they are oases for foreign travelers; on the other hand, they are relatively open local landmarks where foreigners and locals greet, meet and eat together.

Even the best hotels have to maintain a fine balance between a laissez-faire attitude toward guest freedom and watertight security. After all, while you of course want to stay safe, you don’t want to have a business associate or friend strip searched to join you for a breakfast meeting; and whom you let into your room has to be up to you. At the same time, hustlers and hucksters of all stripes, especially in countries where income differences are extreme, can also exploit an open door policy.

Good hotels have their own discreet ways of identifying and dealing with unscrupulous folks on the make and will always try to make sure that guests aren’t taken advantage of. But even in good hotels, bad things happen to good people and a few simple precautions are in order.

Top hotel safety tips:

  • Keep your hotel door locked and chained/bolted, and never open it to a stranger. Ask who’s there and what they want, and call the front desk if you’re in doubt. Personally, I never use door peepholes. Time and place predictability: knock on door + head over peephole = good target. Maybe I’m too paranoid, but if you do use a peephole try not to be completely predictable.
  • Don’t broadcast your name or your room number, and try not to mention them to anyone together. In a hotel, knowing a guest’s name and room number opens up all kinds of potential security breeches; minimize the chance of these by sharing your name and room number quietly and sparingly.
  • Your hotel safe isn’t safe. Best advice: don’t bring anything on a trip that you really can’t afford to lose. Next best advice: keep your passport and other key documents/valuables with you at all times if possible; hide them in a non-obvious, seldom-cleaned place in your room if you must; or leave them at the front desk and the hotel’s safe – in exchange for a signed receipt – if you really have to. Lock your laptop to some furniture if you are leaving it in your room.
  • Don’t stand in front of your hotel with all of your bags. This broadcasts your plans to leave the safe confines of the hotel, and allows criminals who rob travelers for a living to make plans of their own. Leave your bags inside the hotel if you need to go outside to check if your car has arrived. Better yet, stay in the lobby and have someone from the hotel do the checking.
  • Don’t make yourself vulnerable to strangers. Notice we didn’t go all the way and say, “Don’t talk to strangers.” But since hotels are inherently open places, do be aware that not everyone you meet there will have your best intentions in mind. Never leave your drink out of sight in a hotel bar – roofies happen to women and men every day. Don’t share your name and room number. Keep your itinerary and plans to yourself unless you are really sure of whom you are talking with.

Know what to do in case of fire

The most likely emergency you’ll run into at a hotel is a fire. Rather than worry about it, be prepared. We assume you’re already staying in the kind of hotel that has smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system.

Top hotel safety tips:

  • Pack a small flashlight/torch. This can come in handy in all kinds of situations – so keep it handy.
  • Book the right room. When we book rooms for our EP clients, we always think about fire exits. We’ve even passed up the presidential suites because they were too high up, and had the hotel re-arrange rooms on lower floors instead. The third floor is good; 2-4 are OK; anything above that might be problematical in a pinch. Rooms near fire exit stairwells are the best.
  • Know your escape route. Go ahead, take a few seconds to study that sign on the room door that you never look at; count the number of doors between you and the nearest stairwell. It’ll keep your mind sharp and just might come in handy.
  • If you are stuck in smoke, stay low – really low. Keep your mouth and nose as close to the floor as possible when in a smoke-filled room. We mean within two inches of the floor, not just “sort of low”. It can save your life.
  • Know how the fire alarm sounds. Ask at the front desk. If you do hear it and you’re in your room, leave immediately, bringing your room key and the flashlight/torch that you left next to your bed, and make for the nearest stairs.
  • If you can’t escape, do what you can to survive. Turn off air conditioners and fans. Wet some towels and stuff them into the cracks around the door. Call the front desk, the fire department and a local business contact to let them know that you are stuck in your room; what the heck, call your corporate security department while you’re at it: you want someone to know exactly what room you are in. Then go to the window with your flashlight/torch – or a light colored cloth – and make a scene.

Did we leave anything out? Let us know if you have more insider hotel safety tips for staying safe in hotels!

Will Powell

Regional Security and Safety Advisor

Will served as a Regional Security and Safety Advisor up until 2014.