A terrorist attack on a Marriott hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan shakes the industry.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on 25 September 2008 and updated on 3 October 2008. The article was chosen as part of Hotel News Now’s look back at 10 years of the hotel industry.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The bomb that rocked the Marriott hotel in the Pakistan capital, Islamabad, on the evening of Saturday 20 September has left a few scars on the hotel industry, to say the least. The bomb instantly killed some 40 people (mostly hotel security staff) and injured at least 250 others according to initial reports. Only 40 of the injured remained in hospital the following day.
However, two days later, the leading English language daily ‘Dawn’ reported the death of the Czech Ambassador to Pakistan, Ivo Zdarek, two American marines and a Vietnamese woman.
Marriott confirmed at least 29 employees died in the blast.
The owner of the property is Hashoo Group. Its media advisor, Jamil Khawar said it was owner Sadruddin Hashwani’s ambition to resume regular proceedings at the Islamabad property by 31 December.
“Presently, our focus is on damage control and rehabilitation of employees and our valued guests,” he said “We are optimistic that we can recover from this tragedy and reinforce the confidence of our local and foreign patrons very soon.”
He endorsed the fact that hotels across the country had been vacated as foreigners rushed home after the blast.
“As far as demanding extra security goes, it’s a no-doer since most of our security personnel are on-duty securing the elite of the land. The usual security at hotels is sufficient, which can be gauged by the fact that the bomb was detonated outside the hotel, unlike the first attack on the Twin Towers in NYC, where the truckload was parked deep inside the building. On the streets in Pakistan, you are as safe in Karachi and Islamabad as you are in DC, London or Madrid. Safety is not an Asian concern any more.
“The only other Marriott property in Pakistan is located in the armpit of the U.S. consulate which is one of the most secure spots in the country. The security in this area has been on high alert since a car laden with explosives blew up outside the U.S. consulate years ago. I doubt if there is anything else that can be done to enhance security at this property.”
The local hotel industry has been rocked by the attack and according to latest reports: patrons have already cancelled parties and functions at leading four and five-star hotels across the country, in addition to the massive check-outs by foreigners and locals. Locals entertain guests at Iftar parties (to break the fast in Ramadan) at dusk. The last 10 days of Ramadan are especially celebrated joyous occasions. According to one report in the local press, hotels are staring at a daily loss of no less than Rs.5 million (US$ 70,000) per day.
While industry insiders join hands and hang their heads in shame at the loss of human life in the holy month, they vow to stay committed to their cause and return with more commitment to their profession than before.
Iqbal Mehmood, director marketing and sales at the Karachi Marriott Hotel, said, “This is not a wound to the hotel industry in Pakistan. It is a national tragedy and one that all hoteliers around the world have been touched by. It has hurt the image of Pakistan and Islam much more than it has devastated the contents of a building.”
Talking about more stringent security measures, he added, “It is a fact that security has recently been at its highest possible alert around key installations in the country. I can only say that our security systems are excellent. We are obviously more vigilant and pro-active in our monitoring of incoming traffic since the tragic attack but there is little we can do except being cautions.”
Ashraf Ahmed, Director Marketing and Sales at one of the newest hotels in town, the Ramada Plaza Karachi, added that there was a generally bad taste in the mouths across the country, especially for those involved in the hospitality industry. “This dastardly attack has destabilized not only the hospitality industry but the entire economy of Pakistan. It is an act of the enemies of Pakistan and Islam.”
About business, Ahmed said, “This is the lowest ebbs I have seen the hospitality industry touch in the history of Pakistan. The occupancy around hotels in the country is barely ten percent. However, damage control has already commenced as has publicity campaigns and confidence building measures. We are hopeful of the industry returning to business as usual within the next two or three months.”
He blamed the local media of inciting a fire that was barely half the magnitude portrayed by the ever-zealous, free-speaking and expressing local media.
They have added some serious fuel to the fire and have done a major disservice to the nation by further pulling down trust and security levels that were already well below international standards,” Ahmed said. “I wish they would stop reporting with their usual extra-spice recipe.”
There’s not much that can be done to entirely prevent suicide attacks, he said.
“Although we use state-of-the-art security systems, technologies and equipment, suicide attacks have caused immense damage internationally to the most progressive nations around the world, and we are no exceptions. I guess it is one of the harsh realities of life in the 21st century, and we need to join hands to eliminate this menace to our future. It is not one person’s or country’s problem any more.”
Renovation work has already kicked off at the site of the tragedy, where workers have returned in order to earn their livelihoods despite the lurking danger. This is not the first incident of its kind in Pakistan, and most people still remember the attack just outside the Karachi Sheraton Hotel and Towers a few years ago. In the last 12 months alone, the southern port city of Karachi has witnessed tragedy first-hand—in the 18 October attack on ex-premier Benazir Bhutto when hundreds lost their lives and limbs; and more recently when the country plunged into anarchy when Bhutto was killed on 27 December last year.
The hotel owner, Sadruddin Hashwani, told a private news channel that the hotel would resume operations within four months.
Marriott has established the Islamabad Marriott Assistance Fund for victims of the bombing.