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In this blog post, the sixth in a series, Thomas Pecora addresses hotel security for the foreign traveler. He is director of Pecora Consulting Services, which provides consulting services in security vulnerability and threat assessments in Asia and the United States, as well as personal safety and crime prevention and avoidance, and travel security skills training. Pecora is also author of the memoir, Guardian: Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA's War on Terror, and served 24 years as a CIA senior security manager. He managed large complex security programs and operations in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and in war zones.
One key factor in the success of a business trip is the quality and safety aspects of your lodging. This is something that needs to be addressed prior to your departure as well as followed-up on when you arrive at your location. Key in on the following characteristics for any prospective lodging:
Let's look at some key aspects for each.
Stick with reputable hotel chains as they have better security, safety, and comfort. Look for hotels with a 24-hour staffed front desk, security guards on the premises, and surveillance cameras.
People traveling on a budget often neglect where the lodging is actually located in respect to the various locations they will visit during their trip. Ensure that your lodging selection is conducive and safe for you to move back and forth to your work locations.
Choose a room above the ground floor but not higher than the 6th floor as that is the limit of firefighting ladders. Ask the desk clerk not to announce your room number and if they do, politely ask for another. Keep a hotel business card with the address and contact information for use with taxi drivers to get back to your hotel.
Hotel room door locks are never totally secure as keys are issued to maids, security personnel and guests, at best they are access control devices preventing the general public out of your room. Ensure the room's locks are functional and use both the deadbolt and auxiliary locking devices (door chain, privacy lock, etc.) when in the room. For added insurance, employ a door stop to avoid any uninvited guests. Door stops, simple triangular devices made of rubber, plastic, or wood, are placed slim side forward under the lock side of an inward swinging door. Give it a good kick to seat it firmly under the door and it will prevent anyone with a key from opening your door.
Check that the windows, balconies, and connecting doors are locked every time you enter your room as service staff may inadvertently (or deliberately) leave them unlocked. Use the peephole before opening your door and if there is no peephole, talk to them through the door and verify their identity with the front desk if they say they are associated with the hotel (repair, room service, etc.).
Valuables should be with you or left in the room in a safe, in a locked suitcase, or in the hotel security box. Room safes prevent casual theft but will not stop a determined thief. Most hotels will not cover loses for expensive electronics or other valuables. Report security issues to the front desk. If anything is stolen contact the local police for an investigation and to obtain a police report for use with your insurance company.
One way to keep healthy while traveling is to avoid drinking or using local water as in many foreign locations the water purification systems may not be sufficiently effective for your intestinal system. Drink bottled water and use it in the bathroom when you brush your teeth, etc. You may want to pack your own medical kit to help you deal with any illnesses.
Pepto-Bismol, Imodium (and other anti-diarrhea meds), and pain/fever reducers like Ibuprofen and Aspirin are good items to keep in your toiletry kit.
Following these recommendations will help you book suitable lodging with your security in mind increasing your chances of having a safe and productive trip. In my next blog post, I will discuss how to plan for a hotel emergency during travel.
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