Whether guests at a seven star hotel or a seven dollar hostel there are certain things that travelers need to consider when staying in overnight accommodation. Here are our top 5 tips for staying safe and secure in a hotel environment.
1. Room to Improve: If you have the option to pre-book a room or choose where in a hotel to stay think about a few things.
- What floor to stay on – the general consensus is between the 2nd floor and 6th floor. This way people can’t easily gain access to your room windows but fire fighters can reach with their ladders.
- The risks of the area – Are you staying in a hostile environment? If there is a risk of IED’s, car bombs or suicide bombers think about getting a room at the back of the hotel or the opposite of where cars can drive up to the entrance. Perhaps even away from the general lobby area.
If you are not happy with the location of your room, ask to move to a different one.
2. Fire first:
This is a saying we use to remind travelers that as soon as you arrive at your hotel spend a few minutes to ask yourself, what if there was a fire or other emergency?
As soon as you get into your room, place your bags on the bed and exit the room. Look for your nearest fire exit and nearest fire extinguisher, picture reaching these in the dark and count either steps or number of doors between your room and the these points. You may have to find these in the dark or when there is smoke blinding you. Don’t stop there, check the fire exit and ensure it is in fact a viable option. Then when you are happy head back to your room.
3. Fire second:
There was a tragic story of a whole family dying from a small fire within their home. They were sleeping with every door open and all the toxic fumes traveled freely throughout each bedroom killing the occupants as they slept. When fire fighters arrived they only found the pet dog alive as he was shut in a small utility room. The door had protected the dog from the fire and fumes. This story re-enforces the fact that a room can protect the inhabitants from smoke and heat for a considerable amount of time if done properly.
Fire second is a saying we teach our students. Once you have identified the fire exits and returned to your room, ask yourself again, what if there was a fire? If there is no escape from the exits then this room will be your citadel, your safe room.
- Look at the window, does it open, what floor are you on? Can you jump? If not does it open to give you fresh air.
- How does the door open and unlock. Is there a key? If so always leave it in the same place.
- Is there a bath – in an emergency you can fill this up with water and use it to douse the door and walls.
- If there is a fire and you cant escape then wet towels and block any gaps around the door.
If traveling to less developed countries or regions think about taking portable fire and carbon monoxide alarms. Both are cheap, small and easy to use and well worth the small amount of space they take up.
4. Double the Door
Your hotel room door is your best barrier to external risk. When inside your room make sure that you use all the locks provided. Do not open the door unless you are a 100% sure to whom you are opening it for. If there is a peephole, use it.
There a few great items on the market that can provide a second layer of door security think about taking these, as they are small and cheap.
- Door wedge
- Door lock ratchet
When you leave the room, use the peephole, make sure there is no one outside. When you come back to the room do not assume that it is secure. The majority of hotel room locks can be defeated quite easily, many people have access to the keys and it would be a mistake to assume that no one could have got in. Take caution, have a quick look around and then relax once you have checked and the door is locked behind you.
The Hamas chief Al-Mabhouh killed by Mossad in a Dubai hotel room made the mistake of assuming his hotel room was secure. Mossad used either a very simple and easily attainable machine to decode the electronic door or the tried and tested string and wire technique that can open many doors which have the tiniest of gaps between the door and floor.
It is not just the intelligence services that know these tricks, many criminals and attackers have the means and the motivation to go to these lengths.
5. Complacency is a dirty word:
- If you hear an alarm, do not ignore it. React quickly and use your pre-determined exit. We do not mean panic and run out in your underwear screaming, but just make sure you do react. Get dressed, get your shoes on, stay calm, prepare to leave the hotel and take your room key, if there is a fire and there is no escape you may have to get back to your room, close your door behind you. Try and avoid using the hotels muster point or emergency gathering location. Sometimes hostiles will use an alarm to gather people in one spot before attacking or carrying out a secondary attack.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night for no reason, check that there is in fact NO reason, take a few seconds to listen, look and sense if something is wrong. If nothing go back to sleep…
- If you see smoke or fire when in a hotel do not assume someone else has reported it. Initiate a fire alarm or call the hotel. Especially when you are in your room call the emergency services as well, do not assume the hotel will call them. Hotels are unwilling to call the emergency services until they have checked out the incident themselves for fear of creating a false alarm. This can cause a significant delay. There have been many horror stories of deaths and injuries caused by these delays. Take control of the situation yourself.
- Do not assume that because you are in a hotel you are safe. If you are in a lift and someone else comes in that you are unsure of wait for him or her to push a floor before you do. Make sure no one is following you towards your room.
Most importantly as with all of our advice, do not develop irrational fear, do not think that everyone is out to get you. Instead just increase your awareness, listen to your sixth sense and take the time to prepare for certain scenarios. Time spent preparing and planning is never wasted, it can also mean the difference between life and death.
The author is the co-founder of Explorer Travel Security. This is a dynamic and elite travel security company dedicated to travel safety and security of individuals, groups and organizations abroad. it is a full service company offering tailored training courses, executive protection, global rescue, elite travel insurance and electronic tracking and security solutions.