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Staying safe in your hotel room

It goes without saying that hotels have become a target for terrorists. A survey after 9/11 by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration found that many hotels didn't alter their security and safety procedures in response to an increased threat of terrorism. Peter Greenberg, "Today" travel editor and author of “Hotel Secrets from The Travel Detective," gives tips on how to protect yourself:

I asked officials of SafePlace, a Wilmington, Delaware, corporation (www.safeplace.com) that evaluates hotels against specific security, fire protection, and health and safety requirements, to compile a list of essential ways for hotel guests to protect themselves:

  • Never open the door if you are not expecting anyone, and make sure that there is no one lurking around your room before you open the door.
  • Always use your view port when opening the door. Open your door only to persons known to you. An unexpected visit from hotel staff should be verified with the front desk before opening the door.
  • Do not place the in-room breakfast menu on your door at night. This sends a clear message that there is a single person in the room.
  • Never prop your hotel room door open. When closing the door, always use the dead bolt, as well as a chain lock if one is available. (To its credit, in 1995, AAA made the installation of dead-bolt locks in every room a requirement for a hotel to be inspected and rated. The specific requirement: each room must have a primary lock that permits the guest to lock the door when leaving the room. Then it must have a dead-bolt lock that cannot be opened from the outside with a guest room or master key when locked by the guest from the inside.)
  • If there is an adjoining room, ensure that the door locks via a dead bolt accessible only from inside your room. If there is no dead bolt, by all means, ask for another room. If this is the only room available and the door opens into your room, you may also want to place something heavy in front of the door so that no one can enter the room by force.

Some of the best ways for travelers to assure themselves that they are staying in a secure hotel and that there are proper procedures and safety features in place are to simply not be afraid to ask questions, do a little inspection on their own, and stay alert while away from home.

Before booking your hotel, you should ask these questions:

  • Has your hotel been reviewed by an independent third-party company for security and safety features?
  • Does the hotel employ twenty-four-hour security personnel? (In many cases, a hotel will say they do have twenty-four hour security, when, in fact, the security staff might consist of only the hotel engineer or maintenance person. Also, is the security officer an employee of the hotel or someone working for a subcontractor?
  • Does the hotel require proof of identification of all guests?
  • Is access to guest room floors restricted to resident guests with valid electronic key cards only?
  • Do all of the hotel rooms and common areas have working fire sprinklers and smoke detectors?
  • How many incidents of burglary and other crimes are there each year at the hotel?
  • Are there in-room safes or another hotel safe in which to store valuables?
  • Does the hotel perform prehire criminal background checks on employees?

Excerpted from Hotel Secrets from The Travel Detective by Peter Greenberg. Copyright © 2004 by Peter Greenberg. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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