According to the 2017 Terrorism and Political Violence Risk Map published by insurance company Aon, the number of terrorist attacks increased worldwide by 14% in 2016. Western countries saw the greatest percentage increase in the frequency of terrorist violence of all regions in 2016, with a 174% rise in incidents – though they still remain the countries least affected by terrorist attacks worldwide.

While the risk profile of Western European destinations has undoubtedly been raised, research by STR does provide some crumbs of comfort for hoteliers. The company studied four cases in which a major European market was attacked by terrorists – Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016 – and found that, while occupancy and RevPAR dropped dramatically in the months after the attacks, it didn’t take long for the markets to stabilise.

Robust and ready

“Everybody knows that terrorist attacks are bad for the hotel sector,” says Robin Rossman, managing director of STR. “I think the thing that surprised me was just how robust hotel performance has been in the months after these attacks.

“We found that it took three months on average for the markets to stabilise and start to climb. Also surprising was the fact that, in general, the hotel markets didn’t drop rates during that period: there were no discounts to try to drive value.”

A number of recent attacks have demonstrated, however, that well-trained staff and the right operational measures might not just help ensure the safety of guests, but also allow hotels to be part of a community’s response to terror and play an important role in its recovery.

At the core of a good security strategy is comprehensive risk management – the ability to judge the nature and seriousness of a likely incident before it occurs. There are a number of ways of doing this, some top-down and others bottom-up. For Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, the risk management programme is based on the abbreviation ‘TRIC=S’, which stands for ‘threat assessment + risk mitigation + incident response + crisis management, communications and continuity = safe, secure, sellable hotel rooms’.

Online preparations

There is an online self-assessment programme that all the company’s hotels, whether franchise-managed, owned or leased, must participate in. Selected portions of these self-assessments are added to a database of good practice that allows general managers to look at the innovative ways hotels are meeting their security objectives. This knowledge is combined with the assessments of thirdparty risk specialists, such as insurance companies, and is sent to operations teams in monthly meetings, as well as through a computer system that issues warnings, alarms and market-specific information.

“We don’t dictate [to individual hotels] what they should be doing – we always say if a general manager doesn’t know better than us what’s going on outside their front door, it’s probably going to be too late by the time we get involved,” says Paul Moxness, Carlson Rezidor’s vice-president of safety and security.

“We have them do the self-assessments, and then they can always come to us for training or support, or to ask any other questions on things they may have seen in the press,” he continues. “We try to follow it up with internal resources, or the risk intelligence companies that we work with.”

High alert

Brussels Airport Sheraton found itself in the spotlight in March 2016 following a terrorist attack that saw the hotel turned into a makeshift triage unit, with hotel staff tending to the wounded while emergency services made their way to the scene.

It’s also vital that a hotel sees itself as part of the community, exchanging information with other hotels and local security services.

“After the attacks in March in Brussels, all of our hotels in all major cities in Europe went on high alert,” says Even Frydenberg, now CEO and president of Scandic, who was Starwood’s SVP of operations for Western Europe at the time of the incident. “We could do that the same day – just an hour or so after the attacks in Brussels – because the hotels are trained [in measures commensurate with different risk ratings], and should be able to implement them pretty much immediately.”

Even with the most comprehensive risk analysis, the occasional incident is inevitable, and hoteliers face the delicate task of preparing their employees for all eventualities without causing them undue anxiety or stress. According to Frydenberg, the key is to incorporate the importance of risk awareness into the basic job training, whether that is to become a housekeeper, concierge or bartender, and then to repeat the right behaviours until they become second nature, even under the severe stress of a terrorist incident.

“It all starts with awareness of what’s happening around you and the people around you,” he says. “Anything out of place, you notify your manager immediately. You have some standard awareness training and some that is more tailored to the individual market.

“Over the past decade and a half, we also ran safety and security crisis simulations in every single hotel. We called these ‘tabletop exercises’ and each year a hotel will go through at least one. This is really hands-on training that teaches them to think on their feet and make sure they don't forget anything in case they are faced with a situation like it in real life.”

Part of the community

It’s also vital that a hotel sees itself as part of the community, exchanging information with other hotels and local security services. The UK is a leader when it comes to carving out channels of communication between law enforcement, intelligence services and the private sector, while the French authorities also upped their game in the lead-up to the UEFA Euro 2016 Championship. According to Moxness, general managers should be proactive in building such relationships and may want to look to emerging markets for examples of best practice.

While not terror related, Sierra Leone offers up a good case study for this practice: when the Ebola epidemic hit West Africa, the Radisson Blu in Freetown reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a US Government organisation that was in the country helping combat the disease.

CDC provided monthly training for the hotel staff, allowing it to stay open during the crisis and become a safe base for VIPs visiting the country, such as the regional director of WHO, and Bent Høie, Norway’s health minister.

The partnership was beneficial not just to the hotel, but also to the city as it tried hard to maintain a semblance of ‘business as usual’.

“There are quite a few examples of direct engagement that really help the entire market improve its safety and security,” says Moxness. “We don’t view this as a competitive thing, it’s important for every hotel and destination to be as safe as possible. If something happens, it’s usually the destination that suffers more than the brand itself.

“It’s often not been the case in our industry that safety and security is openly discussed. I’ve always felt that shining a light on something and discussing it is a better way to approach it, rather than making sure it doesn’t impact you, and then hiding away and hoping for the best.”