Key Takeaways
Over focusing on COVID leaves companies vulnerable to other threats Hotels remain under threat of terrorism Knife attack methodology has diffused the threat of potential attack A significant terrorist attack on a major chain hotel now could spell disaster for the hotel sector

Threats Beyond Covid

In my recent post about the power of seeing threats coming I talked about foresight. In this related post, I’ll review why it’s important to consider threats other than COVID. 

Recent terrorist attacks in France including the gruesome knife attack at the Notre Dame de l’Assomption Basilica, remind us that pre-COVID threats remain extant and that security practitioners and business leaders should guard against continuing fixation with the pandemic. A pandemic that is giving space and a greater chance for freedom of manoeuvre for threat actors. For instance, terrorism remains a concern for hotel operators, but the emergence of Lone Wolf Knife attacks poses a different challenge to that which hotel companies are used to in operating in high terrorist threat areas.

Hotels have been a target of choice for many decades range from Irish Republican terrorist attacks on the Europa Hotel in Belfast to jihadist attacks in Mali. Not only do attacks on high profile hotels garner global publicity for the cause, but hotels also host suitable human targets. Mature hotel companies have or had responded to this threat by establishing counter-terrorism programs that enhance security in areas deemed to be high risk.

Identifying hotels at raised or high risk of terrorist attack was straight forward and led largely by location, geopolitics, history and local security and intelligence agency capability. Terrorist groups need space and time to be able to plan, resource, prepare and launch complicated attacks against hotels and other targets. The scale of damage that sophisticated attacks such as Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, Marriott Islamabad, and storming gun and siege, the Taj Palace Mumbai, are evident. The human impacts are devastating, as can be the potential legal implications, but attacked hotels are re-built stronger and better and guests return.

During my travels, I have stayed in hotels that have been previously subject to substantive terrorist attacks and have had the opportunity to speak to other guests about their thoughts about staying in a place in which many people had been violently killed. There were various responses many based around terrorists not winning etc., but it was interesting that it seemed that the extent of the renovations psychologically distanced guests from events as though they were staying in a different hotel.

Whilst the threat of high kinetic terrorist attacks against hotels remain in high-risk areas, the generic risk of Lone Wolf knife type attacks are increasing, though maybe dissipated somewhat because of the huge number of potential hotel targets  Experience tells us that these types of attacks can happen anywhere at any time and that the simplicity of the attacks makes them almost impossible for security forces to interdict. Town and city hotels anywhere could be impacted by such attacks and therefore profiling and other counter-terrorism techniques used to protect hotels in high-risk areas are far more challenging. Another threat dynamic to consider is that hotels are natural rallying points or locations for last stands.

As in high-risk environments, training and preparation are key to effectively responding to a terrorist incident, this is easier in high-risk areas, such as Tunisia, because hotel leadership and staff are alive to the threat. Engaging hotel staff in a hotel in say Denmark will likely be more of a challenge.

Counter-intuitively, it may be more difficult for hotels to recover from knife type attacks. These attacks are particularly visceral and compared to a gun or bomb attacks occur in ‘slow motion’. The thought of a gruesome act such as a beheading burns deeply into the psyche. Knife attacks are up close and very personal compared to gun or bomb attacks are relatively and by comparison impersonal, but this is not to diminish the horrendous potential psychological impacts of other attacks.   Are guests more likely to return to a hotel that has been blown up or where ‘Mr & Mrs ‘Smith’ had their heads cut off in the lobby? Likewise, the impact on staff could be severe.

I accept that as hotels and their companies are struggling for their very existence, security is not the priority it was. Despite this, we need to ‘keep our heads in the security game and be alive to the wider threat environment. A significant terrorist attack on a hotel now could have a significantly more strategic impact on the sector compared to ‘normal’ times.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Are your counter-terrorism programs still effective, especially in light of the growing Knife Type attack?
  2. When was the last time your programs underwent an assurance process?
  3. Do your hotels have Emergency Response plans for Knife Type attacks?
  4. What personnel changes have you made in the past 12 months that could impact your preparedness?

When a crisis arises, it’s easy to narrowly focus on your own problems and priorities, even though others may be struggling with similar challenges. This is the case with the Covid-19 pandemic. NorthPoint International’s expertise is renowned for contributing to public private partnerships to successfully support a common cause. Contact us and let’s help hotels and hospitality businesses at your destination realise the incremental values and benefits of working together.