News for the Hospitality Executive
Braver and Dov Shiloh
TIX Group: “The Israel Experience” in Homeland Security
Box cutters, pressure cookers, shoes, and backpacks. Not considered to be sophisticated weapons or technologies but these are examples of the weapons used to temporarily halt entire economies, prevent travel, and terrify millions in regions where terrorism strikes.
Following the Boston Marathon Bombing, the hospitality industry was deeply affected as hotels were practically closed down in Boston and surrounding areas. Travel was impeded, restaurants closed and tourism ground to a halt. The hospitality industry is now faced with the painful truth of the severe economic consequences of a single terrorism event which collectively affects entire areas. There have been scores of attacks on hotels around the globe, and management must do more to mitigate losses to life and property as well as to their profits.
The Boston Marathon Bombing tragedy is, yet again, another example of the fact that terrorism is here to stay. No longer is the mantra 'It will never happen (again)'. In the many years since 9-11, Americans have grown passive, as apathetic public and officials lowered their guard now that Osama Bin Laden is gone. The Boston Marathon Bombing occurred during a public event, a major sporting event and focus for international travel and tourism. One of the terrorists’ bombs exploded right across the street from the Lenox Hotel in Boston.
This mega-event is an example of the scores of annual attractions throughout the country and the world drawing tourists from places far away. 4th of July and New Years celebrations, marathons, business conventions, etc., draw large crowds and extensive press coverage, and terrorists eye these events as perfect potential soft targets. The term 'soft' applies to low profile, high value targets.
It has always been one of the main premises of the Israeli government that 'Terrorism is here to Stay'. In Israel, although the public does lapse into occasional periods of collective off-guardedness, thanks to Israel's national anti-terror strategy, the fact that terrorism is here to stay is publically accepted. The Israeli public understands that terrorism is something one lives with and that to varying degrees, it can be managed. It can either be prevented or, at the least, minimized in terms of damage and loss of life if an incident does occur. This attitude can be analogous to that of the population living in central US states where tornadoes are a way of life.
The most significant consequence and goal of indiscriminate terrorism is to affect the freedoms of a western democracy: in the Boston area, many cities and towns were shut down as millions had to stay at home and miss work. Businesses closed and transportation was halted. Boston and the western suburbs came to a virtual halt. These losses translated in financial terms in the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Examples such as Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon Bombing and mall active shooters are evidence that we are not completely safe anymore whether from foreign or homegrown terrorism.
Of the many soft targets that are potential risks of terrorism, the hospitality, travel and tourism industries are clearly on the radar of terrorists. Large events such as the Boston Marathon and Boston’s 4th of July celebrations bring hundreds of thousands if not millions out to participate. National media is focused on these events. The terrorists know this and exploit these opportunities by manipulating the media to publicize their attack and cause. In Israel, during periods of intense terrorism, particularly a rash of suicide bombings several years ago, it was obvious to officials that one of the ultimate consequences occurred after an attack (of course loss of life is the highest price). The public was afraid to go out, travel, shop, etc. The local economy suffered losses to public livelihood. Tourism was also severely affected, and involved local hotels, restaurants, retail shops and other businesses.
In Israel after an attack, within a dozen hours, the site is cleaned up, all forensic investigations thoroughly completely, windows replaced, etc. There are no signs that the attack occurred and life is almost immediately returned back to normal. The message to terrorists is: ‘We are here to stay and you will not change our way of life'.
Studies have shown that after major tourism events which create public hysteria, many industries suffer: retail, travel, hotels, etc. For the hospitality industry, there must be more of a concerted effort to collectively build a better defense. An attack on any given hotel will affect virtually all of its competitors. Subsequent cancellations and fear of travel will cause major financial losses.
Interestingly, as proof of Israel’s success in balancing security with tourism, last year, Gacities.com, the website which promotes gay travel destinations throughout the world, voted Tel Aviv the number one gay-friendly destination, with New York coming in second.
After conducting extensive market studies, the Israeli government created and implemented Israel's public awareness campaign to fight terrorism. Through public awareness training, education, media campaigns and even special school programs for children, the Israel public is an active partner in the war on terror.
Research concluded that a change in the relationship between authorities and the public was required. To effectively deal with terrorism, it was concluded that a culture of mutual trust and cooperation would play a key role in the war on terror. By fostering public awareness and involvement, as well as educating the public to accept terrorism as a way of life, it has been learned that stronger national defense can be established. This has proven to be a critical component to supporting Israeli government efforts and includes working with the travel and tourism industry, as all sectors are partners in this process.
In Israel, an unattended package or backpack would almost never go unnoticed. Due to so many terrorist attacks over decades, this is considered one of the 'ABCs' in counterterrorism. The public is encouraged to report suspicious items and it is not unusual to occasionally see a bomb squad checking something which turns out to be harmless. If airlines are now, for the most part, almost completely secured, why is it that anyone can take a 50 lb. suitcase into a hotel room and leave it there? Or an explosive device hidden in a car trunk in the garage?
Special approval processes are also required in Israel when it comes to hotel development. Special security-concept designs, layouts, access points, and bomb-proof building materials are required to minimize damage from explosions.
Although the US public is probably not willing to deal with the high levels of Israeli security measures, especially when traveling (bag searches, personal searches, armed guards in airports and train stations, etc.), the hotel industry and other public facilities such as malls can at least be better prepared. In fact, the stringent security checks for airline travel shows the public will, albeit unwillingly, adapt and cooperate for the most part.
One way to adapt Israeli approaches to be more acceptable in the US is the TIX Group’s 'Emergency Contingency Program' for improved hospitality preparedness and response. Should an attack occur at or near a hotel anywhere, management can implement this program to automatically upgrade security measures which the public will accept due to public hysteria surrounding the attack. Letting their clientele know in advance that hotels are professionally prepared in the event of an incident will ensure a stronger sense of trust and security. You are letting them know that terrorism will not affect their lives and not prevent them from enjoying their travel plans.
Of course, a minor sacrifice to the Israeli public in this cooperation with authorities is the fact the some civil liberties are compromised. In Israel, bag searches are everywhere: malls, post offices, supermarkets, bus stations, even sometimes hotels and other public places. The public is educated to understand this is all for the common welfare and security of the nation as a whole, and it is very successful. U.S. authorities also now realize, with Israel establishing this precedent years ago, that Miranda rights no longer apply for 'Ticking Bomb' cases when authorities believe a suspect might have urgent information about an impending attack in which lives are at risk, and must be immediately questioned in order to save lives, as in the Boston Marathon case.
In addition, hotel staff and the 'cop on the beat' in Israel are specially trained to be the eyes and ears for collecting intelligence for authorities. As part of the front line of defense, they understand the local culture, the heartbeat of the community, and can play a vital role. Of course, 26-mile routes like the Boston or London marathons are very difficult to protect but certain technology measures and practices can be extremely useful, as seen in Boston with the use of video surveillance footage which was key in identifying the terrorists.
The hospitality industry, which has already been targeted (Mumbai, Jakarta and Islamabad as examples), must become more proactive. It has been learned in Israel that taking specific measures such as upgrading hotel design, improving contingency plans, and encouraging cooperation among authorities, hotel management and the public, can be priceless tools in the war on terror.
The TIX Group is composed of veterans of Israel's security community. As former high-level officials, they share decades of knowledge and experience. Group Leader Assaf Heffetz, pictured here, is a former Commissioner of the Israel National Police. He headed the Risk Assessment Committee for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and oversaw design and implementation of security measures for the Olympic Village and downtown Athens hotels. He is also a national hero in Israel for single-handedly rescuing Israeli hostages during the infamous Country Club Attack by the PLO in 1978. He is the founder and first director of the YAMAM, Israel's elite counter terror force. The TIX Group is affiliated with Cayuga Hospitality Advisors.
Reprinted with permission from Cayuga Hospitality Review. All rights reserved.
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