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5-star Hotels Becoming Out of Bounds for Casual Visitors
By Nithin Belle, Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab EmiratesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 3, 2008 - --MUMBAI -- Last week's terror attacks here have resulted in most 5-star hotels in the city becoming off-bound for casual visitors.

Both the Taj and Oberoi-Trident hotels located in south Mumbai had a relaxed atmosphere and visitors could just stroll in for a cup of tea at the coffee shops, lunch or dinner at any of the numerous restaurants, or use the washrooms.

Similarly, hundreds would walk in daily for window shopping at the outlets of international and domestic brands, or just to soak in the 5-star ambience. The terror attacks on the two leading hotels have, however, brought a sudden end to the lax security measures at luxury hotels in Mumbai.

According to industry sources, most of the 5-star properties will now discourage walk-in customers wanting to check-in for a day or two. Only those with confirmed reservations, done after proving their credentials, will be allowed to walk up to the reception.

Metal detectors at the entrance, baggage screening and other security measures are also likely to be announced over the coming days, as the police insist that 5-star properties take adequate steps to prevent the kind of attacks witnessed at the Taj and Oberoi hotels last Wednesday.

Until about two months ago, guests and visitors were allowed to be driven right up to the main entrance of the Taj Mahal hotel. However, warnings of possible terror attacks saw the management ban all vehicles from entering the hotel premise. Metal detectors were also installed at the entrance of the hotel.

However, at the Oberoi-Trident hotels, vehicles (including taxis) could go right up to the entrance of both the properties.

Hotel industry sources said here on Tuesday that most of the 5-star properties would now discourage guests from driving up to the porch. Guests being driven in hotel vehicles -- coaches or luxury cars -- might be allowed near the vicinity, but others would have to walk some distance.

Casual visitors would be discouraged from entering the premises and adequate security measures are being planned to prevent people from carrying bags and other stuff. "This may temporarily affect our business, but we cannot take any further risks after last week's attacks," said a senior executive of a suburban 5-star property yesterday.

Unlike some of the suburban properties -- especially around the international airport at Sahar -- 5-star hotels in south Mumbai have very little space for setting up elaborate security checks and for stopping vehicles.

In fact, both the Taj and Oberoi properties are located in the heart of Mumbai's business and tourist districts. Hundreds of onlookers, especially visitors from other parts of India especially rural areas, can be seen hanging around the entrance to these two hotels. Many hope to catch a glimpse of a Bollywood star or some other celebrity.

The hotel managements are unable to control the crowds as the entrances are located right next to public roads. The police might now impose some restrictions in the vicinity of the two hotels, but both are near hugely popular Mumbai attractions: the Gateway of India, just a few hundred yards from the Taj, and the Marine Drive-Nariman Point promenade, right across the Oberoi-Trident.

On New Year's Eve every year, many of Mumbai's 5-star hotels impose severe restrictions on the entry of visitors, to prevent untoward incidents. The Gateway of India, where thousands descend on New Year's Eve, has been witnessing ugly incidents over the past few years, with women being molested.

Last year, a similar incident happened at Juhu near a 5-star hotel. Rowdies take advantage of the huge crowds and the darkness, despite a strong police presence.

Mumbai's 5-star properties, especially those located in the middle of busy areas and in close proximity to public places, feel it would require enormous resources and manpower to implement new security measures over the coming days. But they have no other alternative.


nithin@khaleejtimes.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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