BY JUAN A. GARCIA
Many executives traveling to Latin America often overlook hotel security measures. I have spoken to several that stated; once they land in country all they have to do is reach the relative safety of their hotel. I then ask if they have stayed in the hotel before, or who made the reservations. I also ask if they conducted any research on the hotel prior to departing or at least called the establishment to inquire about hotel services. Usually the answer is a resounding “no”.
This can create serious problems because hotels are prime scouting grounds for criminals looking for targets of opportunity. Typical criminal acts include theft of personal property in rooms, physical robbery and extortion. Hotel security should never be overlooked because unlike residential security where you can make physical adjustments, you are at the mercy of the existing security capability.
ADDITIONAL RESEARCH NEEDED
Executives working with larger multi-national companies often have an internal travel department that arranges their travel reservations. One problem with these departments is that many of the agents have never visited the country or the hotel where you will be staying. This is where you come in and do a little research. If possible find and ask for the opinion of someone who has visited and stayed at a particular establishment. Ask them if they remember if the hotel was in a good location. Call the local embassy or consulate and ask for their recommendations. Another option is to contact a company in-country representative to get as much information as possible, or recommendation.
Some companies pay for an on-line travel security information service that is provided by companies such as Air Security International. These companies offer a 24-hour information service where executives can ask or browse for information pertaining to a country of destination. If you work for a multi-national company you will have many added benefits and capabilities at your disposal, but if do not have the luxury of these services or you are an independent employee, your safety is truly is your hands. Remember research is the key. Make calls and ask questions. Make your own reservations and keep them confidential.
When calling a hotel ask them if they provide airport pickup and drop off services. When it comes to this service you need to be careful because hotel shuttle buses have been robbed by criminals who had good internal knowledge of routes and times. This can be a 50/50 call. Depending on the country and situation on the ground I sometimes will research what cab services are recommended and use them, or I will have a trusted person pick me up, if viable.
Another question to ask hotel management is if they have 24-hour on-site security personnel. Inquire about the cab service they allow on premise. Then do some research on the cab service by contacting the embassy or consulate. I always want to know where the local hospital, police, and fire stations are located from the hotel. I also make sure that I know how far the airport and business district are from the hotel. When overseas and staying in a hotel I make sure that I have as much information as possible just as if I was in my own neighborhood.
AT THE HOTEL
Once at the hotel what security considerations do you want to focus on? First never stay above the seventh floor if possible. This is for fire rescue and evacuation considerations. Always leave a TV or radio on when away from your room. I even go as far as to place the do not disturb sign on my door. Personally I do not want or need a cleaner in my room everyday. I also never worry about hotel safes because I leave all my valuables at home. I always travel with a cheap watch and no jewelry. I also carry my passport and a very small wallet on me at all times.
Some other considerations include:
1) Always travel with a small flashlight in case of power shortages or emergencies. Surefire lights are a great choice.
2) Buy and bring along rubber door stoppers.They provide an excellent and additional level of security.
3) Use your room number when utilizing laundry service.
4) Dispose of important papers properly while overseas.
5) Keep your personal information personal.
6) Never invite newly-met guests back to your room.
7) Be careful of the overly friendly national trying to make friends, especially the opposite sex
8) If you do not like the occupants in an elevator, do not get on.
9) Be careful using downstairs bathrooms.
10) Always scan your surroundings and see who is loitering around.
11) Never answer a lobby call. Use a phone to respond.
12) Be very careful entering and exiting your hotel. Remember to scan before entering or departing and look for suspicious activity.
13) Ask hotel management for shopping, dining, and touring recommendations.
These are basic hotel security precautions to insure that your trip to Latin America goes as safely and smoothly as possible.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that by staying in larger hotel brands that your security will be guaranteed. Always do a little research and maintain your situational awareness. Latin America is a beautiful place to visit and conduct business, but it is going through many good and bad transitions.
Security starts before you depart on your trip and does not stop once you reach your hotel. You can still have a wonderful time by staying vigilant and low profiled. Remember security is your responsibility. Be prepared for the unexpected!
© Copyright Latin Business Chronicle.
Juan A. Garcia Jr. is the owner and chief instructor of High Risk Security Services. HRSS specializes in providing personal security/anti-kidnapping training and consulting services for executives, expatriates, travelers, and organizations worldwide. Garcia is a former U.S. Army Paratrooper and Marine Corps Infantryman with more than 22 years of experience in tactical, anti-terrorism, and physical security operations. He can be reached at email@example.com