Readers' Submissions

Notes On Security In Hotels



By Peterman

The first thing to remember with hotel security is that hotels are public places – in fact, very public places and either as a guest or visitor one needs to take all the usual precautions one does in the street, probably more so. Pickpockets and other opportunist thieves hang around in hotel lobbies waiting to take away that briefcase you put down for an instant – people are especially vulnerable when checking-in at the front desk as they are often distracted filling out cards, etc.
The thieves know you have your valuables with you in your bags.

Next, be especially careful with your passport – refuse to leave it with the hotel front desk staff ‘to take down the details’ however well-meaning they might appear to be. Who has the problem when they ‘lose’ or mislay it? The hotel or you?? Further, try to avoid letting your credit card out of your sight ‘for an imprint, sir; hotel policy’. At that point, if you haven’t already done so, offer to pay up front in cash – then they won’t need your credit card, will they?

When going out from the hotel NEVER leave your key at the front desk – take it with you even if it has an awkward metal or wooden key fob to go with it. Better still, detach the key and add it to your bunch of keys or keep it in your wallet. Using the same principle you would never dream of leaving at reception your electronic card ‘key’ as found in many more expensive hotels. A room key in its pigeon hole, in full view from the counter, is an invitation to potential thieves to ransack your room; keys left there mean you are out of the hotel, certainly out of the room. The thief merely asks for the key to (your) room no. xxx Rarely do hotel front desk staff challenge enquirers and they cannot possibly remember who is in any particular room – they take you and the thief at trust. The bigger and busier the hotel, the more likely the thief would get away with the blag. On one occasion I went to a hotel to meet a colleague – informed the front desk I had come to meet this person occupying room no. xxx and was promptly handed his room key!!

Once checked in to the hotel, leave your valuables in the front desk safe deposit lockers – they are by far much more secure than the little in-room safety boxes (called safes), many hotels now provide for the convenience of their guests. Some can be very good and some are even large enough to accommodate a laptop but, regrettably, they all attract unwelcome attention from dishonest staff who might have access to your room whilst you are out or down at breakfast. Don’t tell me that the room maid doesn’t try each safe in an empty room to see if the guest hasn’t accidentally forgotten to lock it. In many cases in-room safes are not bolted down or only loosely fixed and could be easily carried out in a sports bag complete with your valuable contents inside. And, who would challenge somebody walking through a hotel carrying a bag?

In response to 'How Secure are Hotel safes?' (Stickman weekly, 20-08-06) I would like to answer based upon thirty years in the safe industry with Chubb, England. Hotel in-room safes, most frequently electronically operated these days, can by necessity be opened quickly by hotel staff in 'emergencies' either by a pass 'key', special instrument, or an electronic over-riding device. In the case of one type of steel special electronic, alarmed, security drawers found in many Bangkok hotels, emergency access is gained by slowly withdrawing a long, screwed bolt which takes time – too long for an opportunist thief but quite fast enough to satisfy a waiting hotel guest.

Turning now to safe deposit lockers, the main manufacturers generally make them strong enough to resist physical attack and provide necessary ancillary security packages with each installation. Most lockers have dual control locks with two key nozzles, one key being used by the hotel guest, the other (master) is used by the front desk staff. No single key by itself will open the lock. Where duplicate keys are kept by the hotel, accusations of ill intent will follow if there are losses or (as in most cases) alleged losses! It is agreed some safe deposit keys can be copied quite easily but there are others where it would be very difficult, especially when the key-cutting shops or booths don't carry the unique blanks. My experience has been that in price conscious Asia, hotel owners/operators get what they pay for, usually going for the cheaper option and that’s the reason why safe duplicate deposit locker keys can be cut outside easily.

To get close to 100% security, each lock should only have one guest key. If that key is lost then the guest has to pay the hotel for the lock to be drilled open and for a replacement lock to be provided. Most respectable safe manufacturers would provide a pool of spare locks for this purpose. Further, most hotel safe deposit lockers have inner steel containers, sometimes weak, moulded plastic, ALL of which have provision to take a small padlock – by using your own small padlock you can even thwart dishonest front desk staff who might possess illicitly copied duplicate keys.

In an ideal world each time a locker is relinquished by a guest the hotel should change the lock on that locker using the pool of spare locks, such that (your) key for locker no.14, say, won't open it next time – there is provision for this lock circulation; they do it in banks routinely. However, it is acknowledged that this procedure would be unwieldy for hotels to operate. The facility is there nevertheless. Actual thefts from safe deposit lockers are extremely rare – I’ve known of only one real one – and in SE Asia – in thirty years experience in many parts of the world.

Guests, themselves, are not always above alleging thefts in the hope the hotel might waive the room charges as ‘compensation’. In addition to this guests have been known to steal from hotels, substituting the hotel’s quality towels or bed linen, having been replaced by inferior equivalents bought outside. Same goes for mini-bars where empty beer cans have been left underneath full ones to fool the maid at her cursory glance to see that the mini-bar is full and intact before guests check out. Then, there are the guests who do a ‘bunk’ in the very early hours to avoid paying or pretend to be going out for that bracing early walk, having loaded their car up the night before. Yes, hotels are at risk too.

Some hotels are lax – too lax for their own good – when it comes to deliberate free-loaders who
walk in on buffet breakfast spreads, then just walk out when they’ve had their fill or just quote any old room no., or sign any old receipt Catering staff, especially here in non-confrontational Thailand, are unlikely to challenge too much so the chance are the pretend ‘guest’ will probably get away with it.

I guess no submission to the Stickman web-site would be complete without reference to ‘ladies of the night’ and how to keep your valuables safe from them when these ‘overnight joiners’ come to stay in guests’ rooms. By leaving cash in the safe deposit lockers, often not opening until 07-00/ 08-00 a.m. next morning, helps your girl fulfill her all-night ‘contract’, especially when after an hour they pull that trick or stunt of just remembering they have to go to their mother’s, a party, back to the bar to collect something – well, anywhere. ‘Yes, you can go Darling (teelak) but with no money; sorry.” If she kicks up a fuss, have her removed by hotel security staff. Most will then opt to stay until the morning. As a corollary, it would be interesting to learn to what extent hotels record girls’ ID card nos., room nos. they occupy, when and with which guests. Of course I accept there are scum and low-life ‘punters’who try to avoid paying working girls.

In conclusion, hotels (and their guests) to a great extent, have torely on basic honesty. Sad really.

Philip J.Pascoe,
24th August 2006.

Stickman's thoughts:

A very interesting article indeed.