A panel of hotel security experts at the Hospitality Law Conference spoke about where the industry currently stands in implementing new security measures following the shooting at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and what hotel companies can do in the near future.
HOUSTON—Despite the shooting at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino last October in Las Vegas, hotel security experts don’t believe the U.S. hotel industry or its guests are ready to take the same steps as hotels in higher threat conditions around the world.
During the “Hospitality security: Post Vegas” panel at the Hospitality Law Conference, Alan Orlob, VP of global safety and security for Marriott International, said he doesn’t believe there’s much appetite in the U.S. for heavy security measures at hotels.
“We know how to do it,” he said. “We do it all over the world. I don’t think the U.S. is ready for it. I don’t think we need to do it in the U.S. yet.”
Citing a discussion he had recently with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Orlob said he told them that because of the law enforcement and intelligence capabilities in the U.S., he doesn’t feel the need to put U.S. hotels at the highest threat level.
Aside from the lack of readiness of U.S. travelers for heightened security in hotels, Orlob said cost is another deterrent for hoteliers.
“Owners have to pay for the extra security measures,” he said.
Recalling a meeting he had with the owner of a Renaissance hotel Bangkok after an attack in 2009 in Jakarta, Indonesia, Orlob said the owner was reluctant to spend more to implement further security measures in the hotel. What helped change the owner’s mind, Orlob said, was the prospect that Marriott could drive business to the hotel by touting it as the safest in the city. A year later, when the security measures were in place, the security team for a competing hotel was staying at the Renaissance, he said.
That’s the approach that works in other countries, where travelers are more open to heightened security measures, he said.
The Vegas shooting
While panelists agreed the shooting at the Mandalay Bay wasn’t foreseeable, they did say there were a couple of things that could have raised red flags with staff had they received different training.
The shooter made several trips up to his room with 22 pieces of luggage, requiring the assistance of some bellhops, said Jeff Moore, CEO of Muir Analytics. That’s roughly 300 pounds of luggage, he said.
“To me, that would have tipped off an alarm for a trained security person,” he said.
The shooter received two comped rooms—one in his name and the other in the name of his girlfriend, who wasn’t there—which Moore said would have been enough to raise his suspicion. In “an ideal set of circumstances,” he said, he would have ordered an explosives wipe or a sniffer dog.
Having a different Do Not Disturb policy wouldn’t have made a difference at the Mandalay Bay, Orlob said, as the shooter allowed housekeeping and roomservice into his guestroom during his stay.
The first thing to consider is what the military calls situational awareness, he said. People are not looking at and paying attention to what is going on despite it being under their noses, he said.
While serving in the Special Forces, Orlob said he learned how to perform surveillance against targets, looking for vulnerabilities to determine the weakest point to hit. The shooter in Las Vegas did the same thing by staying at different hotels and at an Airbnb unit, he said.
Marriott hotels in high-threat areas have dedicated surveillance detection teams to watch for people studying the properties, he said. Those people might be taking pictures of video cameras inside the building, sitting in a car staring at the front entrance for long periods of time or exhibiting other behaviors that stand out.
“We go train them and while at the hotel, we show them what we would consider red zones where people would conduct surveillance from,” Orlob said. “This is becoming more and more the norm, I think, as we try to protect properties around the world, looking for people conducting hostile surveillance.”
Moore was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and said one of the reasons he survived the attack was because of the architecture of the building. The Pentagon was built in the 1940s, but builders installed steel girders in the walls and wrapped the building in a layer of Kevlar fabric under its exterior facade and installed blast-resistant windows.
“That kind of thing could help tremendously,” he said, referring to hotel design. “You don’t want guys with AK-47s shooting through windows and pulling people out.”
Although Moore admitted it sounds like something out of science fiction, he said he liked the idea of designing a building like a ship that seals up. If an attacker comes in through the front or side doors, he said, an employee could push a panic button, which would shut down certain areas and isolate the attackers.
“You can stop them from getting into the back of house, from getting into the bar, from getting into the rooms and hallways,” he said.
When Marriott became involved with a hotel under construction in Iraq, Orlob said he was part of a team of four that flew into Baghdad to plan it. Looking at the plot of land, Orlob requested a certain amount of standoff distance, the space between the building itself and the entry point of the property. The inspection station would be where guests would go through screening before entering the hotel. The project failed because the Iraqi government ended up taking away a third of the plot of land, he said.
A hotel that was attacked in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2008 had 132 feet of standoff distance, Orlob said, and it had barriers that stopped a vehicle from getting into the hotel. However, the hotel didn’t have shielding, so even though the vehicle was 130 feet away, when it exploded, the debris still did significant damage to the hotel.
During the London Olympics in 2012, NBC bought out one of Marriott’s hotels in the city to host its crews, Orlob said. The hotels were at heightened threat levels given the Olympics, so the screening process to enter the hotel was similar to airports. The NBC crews had to go through the screening every time they re-entered the hotel, he said, and it was clear they were frustrated by it.
Orlob said he thought at the time: “We know who they are; why do we require them to go through this?”
Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson proposed a known traveler digital program about three months ago, Orlob said, and that reminded him of the situation at the Olympics.
Marriott has about 190 hotels currently in high-threat environments, where Orlob is working to improve the guest experience with security. The thought is that known guests and residents would be able to go through a different entrance separate from the general entrance that would make it easier for them to come and go during the day. The known guests would go through facial recognition to prove their identities and could pass through millimeter wave detection so they need not even empty their pockets, he said.
“That’s the future of operating in high-threat environments,” he said, likening it to what the Transportation Security Administration did with its Pre-Check program.