Sunday, March 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, March 4, 2001

Many tourists choose a hotel for its safety

Does extra security protect paradise?
Isle volunteers join those trying to keep area safe

By Michele Kayal
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ever since two men claiming to be maintenance workers walked into her hotel room while she was undressing a few months ago, Georgeanna Mann interrogates property managers about security practices before booking her room.

"When I make my reservation I always ask, How secure is your building? Have you had any incidents of robbery or rape?’" said the Waipahu resident who was traveling inter-

island on business when the incident occurred. "I just used to look around. But now I ask about the safety."

Travelers increasingly rank safety and security among their top priorities when selecting a hotel. A study by Orlando-based consultancy Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown found that 80 percent of men and 90 percent of women rate hotel safety as very or extremely important.

Tom Daly, vice president of loss prevention for Hilton Hotels Corp. in Beverly Hills, said Hilton guests consistently list security as their second-highest priority — right behind the usual No. 1 issues of noise and cleanliness.

"Our market research tells us that among dozens of potential issues, this is the second most important, and we’ve done that study more than once," Daly said. "That doesn’t mean the price or location doesn’t rule the actual choice, but this is what they’re telling us."

No national standards

Hotel security in Hawaii was catapulted into the spotlight last month when Canadian visitor Norman Chaplan was attacked in his hotel’s lobby bathroom just after checking in. The 81-year-old man later died. But local and national hotel security experts say safety practices in Hawaii are as solid as anywhere else.

"There is no industry standard; there’s no regulation for safety beyond fire codes," said William Irwin, vice president of security operations for International SOS, the largest global emergency assistance provider. "However, because the clients expect a certain measure of security, most good hotels have very good security."

In the absence of national standards, each hotel or lodging chain does what it believes is necessary to safeguard visitors, Irwin, Daly and others say.

Technologies and practices that better hotels and large chains typically use include: generous lighting in parking areas, room doors secured by a deadbolt with a 1-inch throw and a secondary lock or latch, safe-deposit boxes or in-room safes, closed-circuit television, security staff and card-key lock systems.

"You would probably find most of them have invested quite a bit of money in access control, monitoring or recording systems, guard services," Todd Condon, president of the Hawaii Hotel Security Association’s Oahu chapter, said of his group’s roughly 50 members. "And a big part of any security program is the security awareness in general of your total employee staff."

Changes in security

Some local hotels recently have made changes to their security. Outrigger Hotels and Resorts switched from in-house security officers to a contract with Wackenhut Corp. in September and said it has been getting better coverage since then. The Hilton Hawaiian Village has had card keys since the early 1990s, Daly said, but it has begun replacing the current system with newer technology. All of the hotel’s 2,545 rooms should be outfitted by the spring.

"It’s a more difficult encryption, and therefore more difficult to break," Daly said. "We’re always trying to keep one step ahead of the bad guys."

The same practices applied in Waikiki also hold on the Neighbor Islands, according to local security officials. But both local and national officials note that security on any island is often a more difficult task than on the Mainland where most urban hotels only have one entrance, and visitors are not lulled into complacency by tropical surroundings.

"It’s widely known that hotel guests at a resort area are more lax on personal security than they would be in an urban setting," said Jerry LaChapelle, chairman of the loss prevention committee of the American Hotel and Motel Association. "They’re more apt to leave valuables laying about when they go to the pool; they leave their room key tucked into their shoe."

In addition, the open-air, beach-access architecture found at many Hawaii hotels can make them more difficult to secure than urban hotels, which are generally compact and have clearly defined entrances and exits.

"It is a lot more difficult to provide enough cameras and things like that to identify people going in and out," said Donald Goo, a partner at architectural firm Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo.

Good, attentive customer service also may go beyond just making a visitor’s trip more pleasant, the security association’s Condon said.

"Customer service is one of the best deterrents to crime," he said. "The last thing a criminal coming into a hotel wants to see is someone coming up to him and saying, Excuse me, sir, can I help you?’ That’s the last thing they want."

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