Hotel Security Tips

by Mike Griffin

Hotel Security Tips by Mike Griffin, July, 1999


Greg Susong (The Chip Board) originally pointed out Mike Giffin's article on Hotel Security as being an excellent read for chippers traveling with their chips. It is reprinted here with Mike's permission and with the hope of getting the message out. - Ed.
Hotel Security Tips

I have spent ten years as a security manager for the largest revenue producing hotels in the country (outside of Las Vegas). With 2000 plus rooms and over 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting room/exhibit space, there was never a dull moment.

The overwhelming majority of guests and attendees experienced a problem free stay. But for those who did have problems, the refrain was always a familiar one "I just can't believe this could happen to me". In most cases, the information outlined here could have helped to prevent the incidents.

Arrival:

Always double check to make sure you have retrieved all your baggage and personal items before paying the taxi fare. I have seen honest cabbies return to the hotel with wallets, baggage, etc.. I have also seen them a block from the hotel selling golf clubs, credit cards and other items you thought would be good to have along on your trip.

Never leave anything of value in your vehicle or rental car (regardless if you self-park or use the valet). Most hotels do not lock the vehicle. Even if you self-park and lock the doors, the vehicle and the trunk can be unlocked in seconds.

If you take advantage of bell service and check the bags, remove all valuables & chips prior to doing so. While you're checking-in, the items are most likely sitting in a holding room that many employees have access to. Worse, they are sitting on a cart by the bell desk, exposed to the public.

Check-In/Out:

If you've opted to carry the baggage yourself, do not leave it unattended while taking care of business at the front desk. The same applies for instances when your room is not ready for check-in and you decide to wait in the coffee shop or restaraunt. Bring the baggage in with you.

Luggage theft groups are on the rise in hotels. While security departments work hard to identify these offenders and intercept them, the fact is security cannot be everywhere at once. The theft groups are well trained (actually, they have schools). Naturally, their favorite areas to work are lobbies and the front desk itself. The usual method of operation involves spotting a target, distracting the owner while another member of the group takes the targeted bag. That person usually hands the stolen item off to yet another member. In some cases, other members are present to spot and distract security while the theft occurs.

You will not be targeted by these groups if you keep your valuables firmly in hand. I cannot stress it enough. Never leave your chips in a briefcase, bag or any other container laying at your feet while checking-in or out! These undesirables make it their business to know exactly what kind of conventions are in the hotel, what is being exhibited and the types of carrying cases that are being used to transport them.

During check-in and throughout the stay, if any employee mentions your room number where it can be overheard, demand a room change (be nice, but firm). This is especially important for female guests. Tell the front desk manager that your security has been compromised and they should carry out the room change. If not, request the hotel manager. Believe me, even if the hotel is "sold-out", they'll come up with a room or even an upgrade to a suite at no additional charge (depending on the manager, you may be comped for a night). Finally, request a safety deposit box. If you are told there are safes available in the room, I advise you insist on a safety deposit box (usually located in a room behind the front desk). Hotels usually have safety deposit boxes in various sizes (excellent for chippers who have large quantities of chips with them). You may access the box 24 hours a day. Items most often left in hotel rooms include airline tickets. It may be a good idea to reserve a box when making reservations.

The room safes are accessible by hotel staff without your presence required. Mainly management & security. The likelyhood of this is extremely low. Yet, there is a code to access all room safes in emergency situations. Front desk safety deposit boxes require two keys to access the contents. The hotel gives you one and the other is retained by the front desk. Lose the key and you will pay a drilling fee (usually $50.00). In any event, decide what level of security you want and go from there.

During Your Stay:

If for any reason you feel the need for security, contact the security department. Guest safety and well being is part of their job. They will provide you with an escort to the safety deposit boxes, to your room or to your vehicle. Report any suspicious activity to them immediately, they will decide whether or not it is important.

If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a hotel employee (either by phone or a knock at your door), get their name and department. Call their department or security and verify the purpose of their contact (you may do this through the hotel operator). When you have confirmed their purpose for contact, it is safe to unlock your door and let them in.

Utilize the security devices in your room. Always use the deadbolt lock, chain lock and use the viewfinder (peephole). Check for connecting room doors and make sure they are locked. Make sure any windows and sliding glass doors are locked. Additionally, take a moment to examine the fire escape route listed on the back of the room door. Elevators are never to be used in the event of a fire or smoke filled hallways.

When using hotel restaurants and bars, bags or purses should be never be left on the floor or on the back of your chair. Keep them close to you and in your line of sight. If you have to use the restroom and are dining alone, bring them with you.

Men should never carry a wallet in their back pocket. Women should carry purses in front and hold them close (always keep them zipped or closed). Pickpockets are masters at creating distractions and usually work in teams. Their favorite areas of a hotel to work are entrance/exits and elevators. Like the theft groups mentioned above, they run when confronted. They know a "scene" will bring security to investigate.

A variation on the above pickpockets are teams that work hotel bars and restaurants. Again, they are looking for purses on the back of a chair or on the floor. They have been known to reach through railings for purses or use distraction ploys. They bring empty bags into a restaurant/bar and sit down next to a target. A team member walks up, strikes up a conversation and those at the table next to the target put the purse into the empty bag.

One of the most frequent types of theft at a convention hotel involves prostitutes. Often times, security is called to a room and takes the following statement: "I don't remember a thing. I was in the bar and met this lady...I woke up and found my wedding ring, wallet and watch gone". What happened was, the guest met an attractive woman in the bar. While he was in the restroom, she poured a drug named "xanax" into his drink. He returned, finished his drink and they went to his room. Soon enough, he was out like a light. A variation on this scam involves an escort service where the "attractive woman" goes directly to the room. The results are the same.

Exhibitors:

This section is for organized shows. Nothing is more thrilling than to have a great show, lots of sales and meet many new people. Likewise, nothing can ruin the experience quicker than an exhibitor victimized by theft.

If contracted security is being employed, make sure the convention organizers insist upon a supervisor from that company being present to check on the guard(s) at regular intervals. Ideally, the organizers have found the most reliable contracted security company in town. It is well worth the search to find a company that will send guards who stay awake on the job, have been with the company for a certain length of time and are proven. I have seen the opposite and the results are not amusing.

Another area for concern are the various hotel employees who will have access to the exhibit room. We once uncovered a cleaning crew that was filching exhibitor property while the exhibitors were in the booth! Large trash barrels on wheels concealed the goods. Not to be outdone, engineers, convention services, security officers and hotel management have been caught stealing from the exhibit rooms at night. The bottom line: During your pre-convention meeting with the hotel, demand the following measures:

No hotel employees allowed in the exhibit room unless a convention representative is present. Additionally, have hotel locksmiths change the lock cores to your exhibit room doors and provide keys to convention organizers and the hotel security director only. These measures have never yielded a missing property report during my time at the hotel. I cannot say the same for the groups that "hoped" security was tight enough.

It is also recommended that the group organizers have staff posted at all entrances and exits to the exhibit room while the show is open. Perhaps, the budget allows for contracted security to be posted there. If this is the case, an off-duty local police officer(s) is your best bet.

Away From The Hotel:

When outside the hotel, remove your convention badge. A convention badge announces you are a visitor from out of town. Let's put it this way, most visitors carry alot of cash and credit cards. Should a thief be caught while trying to steal them, are you going to take more time off of work in a month and return for the court date? Two main reasons why you are a target.

Make use of the hotel concierge. They will be happy to provide exact directions to a destination. More than likely, they will have a map available to give you and can highlight the best route. If a concierge is not available, ask a hotel employee. I've given out thousands of maps.

Always use taxi's. Do not use public transportation unless you are sure of the system. Why chance missing your stop or being on the wrong train or bus?

Stay on main, well lit streets. Do not visit "out of the way" spots. Do not display large amounts of cash or wear excessive amounts of jewelry. Most importantly, use common sense and always be aware of your surroundings.

A Few Things To Remember:

Should you check-out and find that you've left something behind (chips?!), call the hotel immediately. Security can check the room. If the item is not found, they will search all the departments that have serviced the room or area in question. Never assume that it's gone for good. Lost & found usually keeps the inexpensive items, while the Hotel Manager stores the valuables.

Always make a report with the security department for missing property. A good department makes it a policy to follow-up the investigation and contact the guest at home with a status report. Additionally, should the item be turned in at a later date, they will have a description of the item, your name and contact information.

Depending on your policy, some items lost while travelling are covered on insurance policies. If this is the case and you neglected to make a police report, a security report may be of use. They can even be taken over the phone once you've returned home.

Finally, most states have what is called a Hotel Innkeepers Act. In Illinois, it is a requirement that this be posted at several locations throughout the hotel. Basically, a lot of legalese, but it does state that the hotels liability in the case of theft is limited to $250.00....will this cover the cost of replacing your chips?!


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