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When tourism-industry historians write about the early 21st century, they may well view the week of October 1, 2017 as one of its hardest moments. The week began with news of terrorism attacks in both France and Canada, then quickly culminated in the shocking massacre of 59 concertgoers which took place at Mandalay Bay Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Most people understandably want to know the personal history of shooter Stephen Paddock and what motivated him. But there are other issues even more important to society at large than the mass murderer himself, and hospitality/tourism-industry professionals in particular needs to be careful not to get distracted by a single tree from the perils to the entire forest.
Instead, they must concentrate on the truly paramount issue: how do we protect visitors, locals, event attendees, employees, and security and law enforcement agents in an age of uncertainty and violence. These questions and the answers we can discover are the most important lessons we learn from the Las Vegas attack. What has happened is now history, and it is our task to help the victims heal as best as they can, as well as seek ways in which the tourism industry together with governments and law enforcement can we work together to prevent future tragedies.
This article is not about public policy. It addresses what is in the control of the hotel industry and nothing more. Before examining the situation in Las Vegas it behooves us to review and clarify some important facts:
There is a difference between an “acts of criminal terror” and “terrorist acts.”
The former is a terrible act that hurts many people but does not have a political motivation. Terrorism, on the other hand, has a clear political motive. Terrorism has specific goals, and deadly acts are used as part of an overall strategy to achieve those goals. In the case of Las Vegas, we know of no overall political goals. Instead, the perpetrator may well have acted for personal motives or for reasons of insanity, but neither of these are political motives. Assuming that this does not turn out to be a terrorist act, we shall have to see it as a pure criminal act.
As this article was being written, there was no reason to assume that Stephan Paddock was anything other than a highly mentally disturbed individual. Should we learn that he had other motivations or political ties, then a new analysis regarding the politics will be needed - but in any case that analysis will have little to do with the question here: enhancing both hotel and event security.
Hotels and other tourism locations are soft targets in an age of terrorism and mass violence.
The fact that hotels are easy targets should become an critical risk-management issue. An attack on a hotel, in most cases, will receive a great deal of publicity and potentially cause a great deal of damage to human beings, as well as to a place’s reputation and to the tourism industry of its destination. This may be one of the reasons that terrorists have attacked hotels in various cities around the world. The fact that hotels have been targeted internationally means that no matter what the reason, hotels and other places of lodging are going to have to have to be creative in how they protect their guests and property.
In most cases, architects designed hotels in the Western countries during less perilous times.
Many of these hotels are quite beautiful but also difficult to protect. For example, hotels with rooms overlooking ground-floor atriums are challenges for security personnel. In like manner, reception or check-in areas were designed not with security in mind, but primarily for customer satisfaction and ease of meetings. The same is true of both valet and self-parking areas. The heightened need for greater security means that many hotels, as well as facilities for mass gatherings such as stadiums and convention halls, need to be retrofitted. Remodeling these structures is of course both a difficult and expensive process and will take some time to accomplish.
In our new age, hotels and other public venues such as stadiums, museums, convention facilities,and transportation terminals must become aware of a whole series of new potentially devastating weapons of attacks.
These include the use of biochemical weapons, drones, and cyber attacks that can literally bring normal operations at a hotel or other venue to a screeching halt. Furthermore, attack weapons continue to be available in smaller sizes, and this “miniturazation” means that any of these weapons may be harder to detect. As we look into the future, hotel security personnel must become aware of nanotechnology and the fact that powerful weapons can be contained in extremely small spaces.
No matter what we do, there is no total security.
We can lessen the chance of danger, injury, or death, but no matter what we do, there will always be risk.
Looking to the Future
In order to ease public concerns some immediate steps should be considered. These are not long-term solutions, but can be immediate stopgaps:
High Coordination Between Law Enforcement and Hotel Security Personnel
For example, Las Vegas’ police department (Metro) has extremely close relations with its hotel industry, and those relations helped to save many lives. Its officers should be commended for their bravery and the outstanding job which they preformed. Close ties between law enforcement and tourism industry are not uncommon in destinations where the tourism industry is strong. But they should be cultivated everywhere.
Upgrading the Security Industry
Security can no longer be seen as mere muscle. Security personnel must be trained in a number of psychological and sociological analytics. This means increased budgets, increased attendance at security conferences such as the annual Las Vegas international Safety and Security Conference (to be held in April of 2018), and increased updating of the security issues on both the macro and the micro level. In today’s world, a criminal or a terrorist can easily slip across borders and travel across oceans.
It may be impossible to inspect every bag, and even hotels can inspect every bag, there is nothing from preventing a guest to bring in a weapon at a later time or simply under his or her clothing. However there is much that can be done by using creativity. For example, it may be necessary to use trained dogs and obtain other technical devices that can “smell trouble.” The tourism industry should be working with entrepreneurs to create new less invasive methods that permit privacy but at the same time detect threats and potential problems.
Training Hospitality Staffs to Be the Front Line of Security
Such training may include everything from questioning why a “do-not-disturb" sign is on a room door for more than a few hours to notifying security if some seems or smells amiss. Frontline personnel are the eyes and ears of a tourism entity such as a hotel.
Care Not to Become Overly Reactive to the Last Major Event
What occurred in Las Vegas is now history. It is essential to help the victims rebuild their lives to the best extent possible. But tourism officials need to focus on preparing for future events and think through how the industry may face future challenges not yet considered. It would do everyone in tourism to consider how an act of terrorism or a criminal act may impact all sectors of a local industry. The bottom line is that what occurred in Las Vegas can occur in almost any city or resort around the world. All of us must be careful not to overly politicize a tragedy, but rather learn from it and then seek to understand future problems and find ways to mitigate these risks with diligence and clarity of thought and purpose.
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