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Hotels Hope Pranks Don't Fool Guests in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

By Monique Newton, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 26, 2009--Imagine staying in a hotel room and receiving a call from the front desk clerk, who tells you there is a fire on your floor and that you must pull the fire alarm in the hallway immediately.

You don't smell smoke or see other guests running for the nearest exit.

Would you heed the caller's instructions or ignore them?

Hotel patrons and employees all over the country have followed instructions like these, then are disgusted when they find out the call was a joke, according to a recent article in The Orlando Sentinel.

In the end, only the pranksters are laughing.

The pranks have occurred in Florida, Alabama and Arkansas, but haven't been a problem along the Grand Strand, officials say. They intend to keep it that way.

"I would hate to think that my guests were that gullible to do that," said John Daniels, general manager of the Breakers Resort in Myrtle Beach. "I'd like to think my guests are smarter than that."

But from now on, Daniels said he will keep an eye out for it.

Some hotels have paid a high price because of these pranks.

At an Alabama hotel, a guest was convinced by a caller to turn on the hotel sprinklers for a fire that didn't exist. It cost the Comfort Suites more than $10,000 worth of damages, according to the story.

A couple visiting Orlando were tricked into smashing out the window of their hotel room with a toilet tank, costing the hotel $5,000.

An Arkansas motel worker was persuaded by a fake sprinkler company employee to take part in a test for the emergency alarm system.

There was no emergency test. The damages cost the motel $50,000.

To date, there haven't been any reported pranks like these in the Myrtle Beach area, said Lt. Amy Prock of the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

The Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association hasn't heard of any reports of such pranks either, but sent an e-mail to its members last month warning them about the trend, President Pauline Levesque said.

"Just to say, 'Hey, look for those sort of things,'" she said.

Some local hotel managers doubt these pranks would be successful here.

Jim Eggen, who is in charge of Avista Resorts' nine hotels, said he hopes none of his employees or patrons would get duped in this way.

"I just can't imagine any employee or even a person with some common sense thinking that taking a chair and breaking your window would be something that would be required of them," he said. "Maybe I'm the one's that naive, but I can't imagine it."

The string of pranks was news to Frans Mustert, president and chief executive of Oceana Resorts in Myrtle Beach.

"It's scary. I don't know how you would combat it though," he said. "It's kind of hard to stop that stuff. You don't want to tell them, 'Don't do what we tell you to do.'"

If an emergency were to happen at one of the six Oceana Resorts hotels, Mustert said he would instruct the guests to hang up and call the front desk to verify the call's origin.

"I sure hope it's not going to happen though," he said.

Contact MONIQUE NEWTON at 626-0310.

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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