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Hotels square up to terrorism

01 December 2003 by
Hotels square up to terrorism

Terrorist attacks, whether they are aimed at the tourist industry or not, are having an increasing impact on hotel and tourism operators. Last week's terrorist attacks on the British Consulate and the Istanbul headquarters of London-based bank HSBC had nothing to do with tourism, but advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to avoid "all but the most essential travel" to Turkey's major cities is certain to have a short-term impact on hotel occupancies.

Russell Kett, managing director of consultancy HVS International, said discretionary travel to areas affected by terrorism inevitably stopped in the aftermath of an attack, having a detrimental effect on hotel occupancy.

He said it was unlikely an attack would turn a city or country into a long-term no-go area for hotel operators but bombings, be they aimed directly at hotels or at other businesses, have made developers look more closely at the risks associated with opening a hotel.

The risks do not have a long-term detrimental effect on hotels as a property investment. They do, however, have an effect on publicly listed hotel groups' share prices.

International hotel group Hilton's share price dived by 5% - on the day it told the market there were encouraging signs from its UK, Middle East and Asia Pacific hotels (see page 9). Why? Because the blasts in Istanbul, where Hilton has two hotels, happened on the same day.

It may be impossible for hotel operators to protect themselves against cautious investors, but there are simple measures hoteliers can take to protect themselves and their guests against the threat of terrorism.

According to Professor Paul Wilkinson, from the Centre for Terrorism Studies at St Andrews University in Fife, physical measures such as airport-style metal detectors in lobbies, perimeter protection and back-of-house security have become important in the fight against terrorism. But keeping in touch with up-to-date advice on what risks may be present is just as vital.

"The hotel industry should regard this sort of advice as important as advice about epidemics or severe weather warnings. Guests will be very grateful for the information. They won't regard it with panic," he said.

"The police, fire services and government will be willing to help. It's in their interest to protect the hotel and tourism industry as it is a big part of their economy."

Industry experts and observers agree that terrorism is now a fact of life, which hoteliers will have to be aware of and prepared for.

Anti-terrorism tips

Professor Paul Wilkinson from the Centre for Terrorism Studies at St Andrews University, Fife, has the following advice for hoteliers:

  • Check the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk) and US government sites such as the Bureau of Consular Affairs (http://travel.state.gov) to keep up to date with any threats there may be.

  • Take government advice seriously when statements are issued - they are not trying to divert attention away from something else.

  • Make sure you maintain good relations with the local police, especially with the department in charge of planning for terrorist emergencies. They can advise you about safeguards and the measures you should have in place for contacting the authorities in the event of a threat.

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