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Security guidelines for India's hotels

By Anoothi Vishal in New Delhi
December 24, 2008 10:35 IST
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Alert to safety issues like never before, major hotels in the country are upping their security quotient in a big way. In fact, the hospitality industry's apex body, the Hotel Association of India (HAI), with the biggest chains (the Taj, Oberoi and ITC, among others) in the country as members, has arrived at a complete list of security measures.

"We had been in continuous discussions and wanted to arrive at recommendations for both big properties that can afford the kind of investment needed and smaller ones which can't afford some of these hi-tech measures," says Priya Paul, chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, and the current HAI president. 

A document made available to Business Standard recommends a list of measures. For external access control, for instance, the list recommends limiting access through a three-tier security ring outside all hotels (including putting up hydraulically-operated road barriers or retractable bollards, for premium properties) putting up CCTVs in   public areas and at the entrances, and scanning not just the guest baggage but also all hotel supplies (fresh and otherwise), randomly opening some of those packages.

Guidelines also include guest profiling (systems in hotels to be linked to the Ministry of Home Affairs' Watch List so that details such as a guest's nationality, passport and visa numbers can be verified) and restricting access to different parts of the hotel through advanced technology.

"In fact", says Paul, "we are all being inundated by emails from security companies." Some hi-tech measures that hotels will be looking at include lifts being so programmed that guests will need to swipe their room keys in these to access their floors.

Also recommended are mass spectrometry room scanners which the US Department of Energy has developed in its Oak Ridge National Lab. These can analyse up to 1,000 room access cards per hour and can detect even a billionth of a gram of explosive on the card (in case the person using the card has handled explosives). Then, there is "Snifex", a small hand-held device with an aerial that starts pointing in the direction of an explosive if it spots one.

At the Claridges, New Delhi, security director Hemant Jaggi says that hotels, especially those under construction or revamp, may also be looking at special laminates for window panes (available for about Rs 450 per square metre) that reduce the splinter effect so that even if glass explodes, the damage is minimal. Israeli and German agencies too have been offering their services to help with "zoning" within hotels  - so that in case of any problem, the affected area can be sealed off.

At another central Delhi hotel that requested not to be named, apart from the usual CCTVs and vehicle checks, monitors are to be installed outside the entrance so that drivers can see their cars being checked. "This can be a psychological deterrent. If anyone has to blow up anything, they may panic and do it outside rather than drive in," says the hotel general manager.

Hotel chains say that local police authorities have been in touch with them and have handed out their own "mandatory lists". Outside many Delhi hotels, for instance, you can spot PCR vans on duty and what are said to be AK-47-wielding gunmen. And all across the country, security advisories have ostensibly been given out to prominent hotels.

According to one such document, circulated after a meeting of GMs of all major hotels in Kolkata with senior police officials, hotels must increase security staff for physical checking and have two armed guards in plain clothes on each floor. Floor plans need to be submitted, caller identification installed in all phones, and baggage and vehicle scanners put at entrances (till the time this is done, physical checking to be ensured) among other measures.

Some measures are already in place. Access of both guests and the staff is being strictly monitored and physical searches of baggages being conducted. Most large hotels have already placed their orders for baggage scanners (according to size and sophistication, price ranges from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 75 lakh). Smaller hotels, on the other hand, say that this may be beyond their means.

Ajay Bakaya, executive director of the Sarovar group, for instance, asks, "how can one spend so much money at a property in Agra, for instance, whose annual earning may be just about Rs 3-4 crore (Rs 30-40 million)?" There are also concerns that terror tactics have become so sophisticated that even hi-tech measures may not help much. "We were told that the latest explosives now are chlorine based, how can anything detect these?"

Nevertheless extra gunmen have been hired and the staff trained to look for anything suspicious. The buzz is that former NSG guards are much in demand and are being snapped up by hotels. However, if you intend to host a party around New Year, be prepared to hand out your guest list to city authorities.

Not surprisingly, guests are already objecting to the elaborate "security checks". But a little inconvenience may be entirely worth it.

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Anoothi Vishal in New Delhi
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