By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, Nov 26 (IANS) The dastardly terror attack on star hotels like the Oberoi Trident, Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai in which several guests and staffs lost their lives has changed the security scenario in the hospitality industry, hoteliers said.
After the 26/11 attacks, hotels have resorted to visible and invisible security measures for guests as well as for the staff — own and outsourced, they said.
“The hotel industry did a paradigm shift post the 26/11 when for the first time the principles of hospitality did not apply including the first impression. Guests and staff had to go through strict security hurdles like car checks, body scans and luggage scans to enter the hotels,” Vikram Cotah, CEO, GRT Hotels and Resorts, told IANS.
The GRT group owns and operates a chain of hotels and resorts.
“Though they (hotel guests) were used to it to fly airlines it was something new for the customer in hotels. This changed the way people looked at hotels. But this decade, the focus has shifted to cleanliness and sanitation including physical distancing and contactless services which is another shift for a close contact industry,” he added.
Soon after the 26/11 attacks, star hotels had installed X-ray machines to scan the baggage and security personnel also did physical scans with handheld devices.
“Bigger hotels were investing in X-ray machines, under chassis scanning machines and pole detectors,” Cotah added.
In Chennai, Courtyard by Marriott also had sniffer dogs.
“Access controls have been installed at critical places. For instance in the lifts only staying guests can go to the floors where staying rooms are located. Similarly, access controls are there for drinking water sources and other critical areas,” a General Manager of a five star hotel told IANS preferring anonymity.
“The level of security measures depends on the hotel’s star status and its profile. High profile hotels will have higher security measures as terrorists normally would attack such properties,” another hotelier told IANS.
While there are government norms whereby details of guests from certain countries have to be notified to the law enforcement agencies, some hotel properties do not accept walking guests from some countries.
“Guests from countries that are known to support terrorists or where drug cartels flourish are generally not allowed to stay in our property unless they come under a corporate account. Walking guests from those countries are not allowed in the property,” a head of a star hotel told IANS preferring anonymity.
Further, hotels also resorted to securing a government identification card while allowing a guest to stay in their property.
“No government id, no room to stay is the policy. Securing a copy of the government identification card is made even at restaurants from some guests,” the hotelier added.
Post 26/11 hiring of hotel staff, outsourced personnel and also vendors have become stringent.
“Background checks of recruits have become more stringent. Further, anyone with an employment record in Pakistan/Bangladesh or a travel record to Pakistan/Bangladesh are checked more thoroughly,” a hotelier told IANS.
“While hiring we carry out third party checks on the potential candidate. Crisis management has taken more importance. Mock drills for safety measures for terror attacks are now added to fire safety mock drills,a Rahul Nama, General Manager, Mercure Chennai Sriperumbudur, told IANS.
Nama, who was heading the HomeTel property in Mumbai when the 26/11 terror happened recalled: “On hearing the attack, we closed the hotel gates and advised the guests not to go out. Those who wanted to come to the property were advised against it. The hotel security personnel were asked to be extra vigilant.”
While background checks on recruits are done, such strict scrutiny is not done in the case of vendors.
The hotels go by reference given and no great background checks on the vendors are currently being done. While hotels have uniformed personnel at the gate to bow and welcome a guest, professional security personnel in coloured clothes are not employed as it adds up to the cost, a hotelier said.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at email@example.com)
By Venkatachari Jagannathan