It is sometimes difficult for Robert A. Hogan to convince the sophisticated employes of Bankers Trust Co. who travel abroad frequently that hotel security is something they should be concerned about.
But Hogan, vice president of security services for the New York-based bank, has at his disposal a litany of incidents -- from the fatal stabbing of a young banker at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1982 to the fire at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico last December to terrorist incidents involving American business executives abroad -- to illustrate the need for caution.
In recent years, corporations sending personnel abroad have become increasingly concerned about safety because of a number of terrorist events, hijackings, crimes and uncertain political situations around the world. As a result, both companies and travel groups have hired internal security experts or outside consultants to keep up with dangerous situations in other countries and advise workers on how to avoid them. As part of their jobs, they often travel with individuals or groups and check on the areas of the cities where business hotels are located and the types of security they offer. The experts' knowledge is instructive for both the vacationer and the business traveler.
In the three major areas of concern about safety -- criminal attack, terrorism and fire -- business travelers who stay in good hotels are no worse off traveling abroad than traveling in the United States, according to security experts.
Yet, those same experts acknowledge that security needs vary widely from city to city and make the selection of a hotel more important in certain high-risk cities. For example, according to the experts:
Two Brazilian cities encompass two very different problems for the traveler. In Rio, with its beautiful, seductive beaches, the way tourists and American business travelers dress makes them stand out and thus become prime targets, particularly of the large numbers of children who run in groups. But in Saåo Paulo, crimes against business travelers are less likely to be of the street variety and more likely to be holdups in restaurants or breaking-and-entering incidents.
In Bogota', Colombia, the threats are two-fold, according to security consultants. Many of the hotels where business executives stay have moved north of the city to get out of areas high in street crime. But the kidnappings of two businessmen on long-term assignments there have made it clear that the northern area may also be unsafe. In addition, there is the element of sporadic terrorism in the city that is directed at the Colombian government.
U.S. business travelers to Lima, Peru, are frequently warned that there is not only a combination of crime and terrorism in the city, but also a sense that the government is unable to respond adequately to protect travelers from various guerrilla groups.
In cities such as Seoul and Panama City, the uncertainty of political unrest often makes security plans for travelers difficult.
"Rio is different from Zurich," said Hogan, who advises employes of the bank on thousands of trips each year. "In Rio, we ask them to travel only in cars arranged by hotels and remind them that areas where there are tourist attractions are very dangerous."
In addition, while concern about international terrorist incidents has abated somewhat in the last year, there still are a number of places throughout the world where terrorist risks are high. Bankers Trust employes no longer travel to Lima, for example, because of high crime rates and terrorist events.
"Even though the business traveler may not be the target of the incident, he may be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Hogan said.
Security consultant Jerry Hoffman, president of ASI International in Reston, recently returned to the United States after a nine-city international tour with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He emphasized that in Salzburg, several hotels had virtually no security programs. But then, they didn't need them because the environment was comparatively safe, he said.
In Amsterdam, however, another city with high crime rates, hotel security programs were much more in evidence. In one Amsterdam hotel, computerized cards were used for access to elevators, as well as to rooms, Hoffman said, insuring guests that people not staying at the hotel would find it difficult to gain access to the floors where guests' rooms were located.
Key systems are a major concern for business travelers, according to security experts, who said that the least safe keys are those that identify the hotel room number. Many European hotels still have not switched to the newer computer-coded keys that do not identify the room number or floor.
Guests also should make sure that the front-desk staff does not just give out room keys on request without finding out whether the person is registered in that room, experts said.
Once business travelers are in a hotel room, the quest for safety isn't over. "You're very isolated in a hotel room," said Hogan. "Never open the door unless you know who's there."
To that end, Anthony G. Marshall, dean of the school of hospitality management at Florida International University in Miami, recommends that travelers do not stay in a hotel that does not have a peephole in the door. If someone identifies himself as a hotel employe, the guest should call the front desk to be sure someone was sent up. At many good hotels, the guest will be notified ahead of time, he said.
"If they don't have a uniform on, call the front desk and ask for security," said Marshall. "That's absolutely basic."
In addition, guests should not be lured into a false sense of security if there's a door chain, which can easily be broken by a well-placed kick, several consultants said. And it's always a good idea to use the hotel safety deposit box for valuables and money.
Many American business travelers elect to stay in international hotels that bear the name of a U.S. chain they are familiar with, according to experts, who said the assumption is that they maintain the same safety standards as their U.S. counterparts. Many do, although in some cases standards vary from place to place depending on the regulations in that country. Names like Westin, Hilton International, Sheraton and Hyatt draw many corporate guests, although experts said many fine European hotels are virtually as safe.
One trend in U.S.-based hotels that has not caught on in other countries is the concept of a special wing or floor for women business travelers. "I have not seen anything like that in Europe, nor do I think we will," said Hoffman, who said women traveling abroad have not tended to exhibit any more concern for their personal safety than men, possibly because in many foreign countries there are fewer sexual assault problems than in the United States.
Fire safety is one area where many U.S. hotels are ahead of hotels in other countries, according to officials. A number of disastrous hotel fires in the United States, including the MGM Grand Hotel fire in Las Vegas in 1980, have pushed U.S. hoteliers to improve fire detection and alarms.
But in other countries, travelers should ask what kind of smoke and fire detection system the hotel has. While few international hotels have sprinkler systems, they should at least have smoke detectors. And guests should find out what the nature of the alarm system is, since it varies widely from country to country, with some using bells, some horns, some a siren-type noise.
Travelers should check for fire instructions and evacuation plans in any hotel room, but in Third World countries they should go even further. "Whatever codes are in place at hotels in those countries are sometimes so weak they're ineffective," said Hogan, who advises travelers to find two exits when they check into a hotel, take time to walk to them and actually open the door. Because signs are often poorly placed and because fire often means no electricity, it's best to know ahead of time how to get to the exit door and what's behind it, he said.
Finally, there are important aspects of safe travel that business people traveling abroad can learn from Europeans, Hoffman said. One is to report people loitering to hotel security personnel, something Europeans do quickly and often.
The other is to be wary of children in groups or women with children begging near hotels or tourist areas. Otherwise, "you'll lose everything you've got," he said.
James T. Yenckel is on assignment.