|By Matthew Waller, The Dallas Morning
NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
August 29, 2009 - Hotel operators and consultants say the recent high-profile invasion of privacy of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, who was filmed surreptitiously in her hotel room while walking around nude, isn't the norm, and most travelers shouldn't be alarmed.
"I'm not condoning it. It's sad," said Pennsylvania-based hotel consultant R. Britton Colbert of the Andrews incident. "But to say it's a rare exception is the obvious."
But the fact that it's a rarity doesn't mean travelers -- or anyone else -- should drop their guard whenever they drop their clothing. Colbert says that travelers need to be aware of their surroundings at all times, including what's available to help them.
"Know the emergency lighting, where the elevator is," he said. "Take a minute and read the guest service directory. There will be a section there about safety and security, how to dial an emergency number."
Giving guests tips
Tim Sullivan, general manager for the Renaissance Hotel on Stemmons Freeway, includes a list of safety tips from the American Hotel and Lodging Association in every guest's check-in packet. The tips include keeping the room key with you at all times, using all of the room locks when inside the room, and verifying with the front desk that unexpected visitors claiming to be with the hotel are who they say they are.
"Following those rules should provide all the tips you need to ensure you're doing the best job you can to be as safe as you can be," Sullivan said.
Still, though, those advisories probably wouldn't have been enough to thwart Andrews' voyeur, who hasn't been caught.
Dallas private investigator Gil Wilson speculated that whoever spied on Andrews might have used a standard camera phone along with a reverse peephole viewer -- a device that looks like a small telescope and allows the user to see inside a room while standing outside. He said such devices can be purchased at stores that sell spy equipment or online.
Jack Taylor, who owns a private investigation firm, said that a simple way to combat that is to "put a piece of black tape over the peephole and check the vents for cameras."
But Colbert and others say using the black tape may create its own security risk by making it difficult to quickly check to see if there is a fire or disturbance outside. It could also be a hazard to subsequent hotel guests.
"You cover it, and you may not remember to take it down when you leave," Colbert said.
Always check peephole
Michael Lynch, general manager of the Embassy Suites Dallas Love Field, advised travelers to check the peephole upon arrival in a hotel room to make sure it's not reversed and to request a room that doesn't connect to another.
He said that, generally, the higher the price of the hotel, the better the security.
"The large name-brand hotels are very cognizant of providing safety for our guests," said Lynch, who said routine maintenance and background checks should be the first order of business for a hotel when considering whether to hire a new employee.
The Texas penal code classifies voyeuristic activity as a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
But despite all the safety security efforts and measures aimed at stopping potential peeping Toms, Colbert acknowledged that it is difficult for hotel officials to block someone who is determined to spy on their guests.
"A hotel can't stop someone from going to every floor with a gadget to look in the peephole," Colbert said.
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