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Hotel Safety Becomes Growing Issue -  New York Times - July 25, 2011
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Hotel Safety Becomes Growing Issue - New York Times - July 25, 2011

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In the months leading up to last year's Global Congress on Travel, Founder Stephen Barth was featured in a New York Times Travel article by Michael Luongo. …

In the months leading up to last year's Global Congress on Travel, Founder Stephen Barth was featured in a New York Times Travel article by Michael Luongo.

While business travelers may worry about strangers, Stephen Barth, the founder of hospitalitylawyer.com and a professor of hotel law at the University of Houston, said co-workers present risks, too. “People are normal until they check into a hotel room,” he said, adding, “The entire duty of care that companies have for their employees, such as harassment policies, still apply when traveling with another employee.”

Mr. Barth said it was once common practice to give out the hotel room numbers of guests when outsiders called. This method was used in 2009 by a stalker, Michael David Barrett, to locate the room where an ESPN sportscaster, Erin Andrews, was staying. He secretly videotaped her through a hotel door peephole.

While hotels generally no longer give out room numbers, Mr. Barth said the same information still could be found on room service door tags and gym sign-in sheets.

Published in: Travel, News & Politics

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  • 1. ReprintsThis copy is for your personal, noncommercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies fordistribution to your colleagues, clients or customers here or use the "Reprints" tool that appears next to anyarticle. Visit www.nytreprints.com for samples and additional information. Order a reprint of this article now.July 25, 2011At a Hotel on Business? Be on Alert, TooBy MICHAEL T. LUONGOThe discussions about hotel safety recently have centered on what happened in a suite at theSofitel in New York between Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the InternationalMonetary Fund, and a hotel maid.But business travelers can fall victim to attacks, too, by intruders, hotel staff, even other guests.Most often, the victims are women.Paxton Quigley, a women’s safety consultant in New York and author of “Not an Easy Target”(Fireside, 1995), said most women business travelers were “just beginning to learn how unsafethey can be, especially in airports and planes, hotels, walking on streets in cities that they don’tknow and in convention settings.” Conventions, she said, leave women particularly vulnerablebecause “they’re wearing name badges and are telling people where they are staying.”Jeannette Duwe said she was staying at a hotel in Reno, Nev., while traveling for the grocery storechain Albertsons when she was attacked in 2002. She was working late on news releases in thebusiness center when a man pried the door open and began bothering her. “I asked him to leave acouple times,” she said, adding that she “made the mistake of turning my back to him, which iswhen he hit the lights and attacked me.”Eight weeks pregnant at the time, she said she worried that no one could hear her scream, but,“Something spooked him after a couple minutes and he ran off.” She immediately called the frontdesk for help.Travelers can take several steps to protect themselves, said Marybeth Bond, a women’s travelexpert in San Francisco who runs www.gutsytraveler.com and has written several NationalGeographic women’s travel books. Women need to “trust their instincts,” she said, if a situationseems awry. When hotel employees make deliveries, she said, travelers should either leave thedoor fully open or say, “I’ll take it from here — you don’t need to come into the room.” Ms. Bondcarries a rubber doorstopper to jam under her hotel door and says she makes sure any adjoininghotel room doors are locked.Ms. Bond also said hotel bars could be problematic. “Men are always hanging out there looking
  • 2. for something,” she said. “I love the hotels where I can order a glass of wine and have it broughtup to the room. Ask for a woman to bring it.” In this way, she said, “You set the tone, and thenthey know you are taking control of the situation.”Hotel bars can be relaxed settings for meeting other business travelers. But Ms. Bond said womenshould be aware that date rape drugs could be placed into a drink; she recommended coastersfrom Drink Safe Technologies, which detect some of these drugs.She added that if consensual sex occurs, “When someone is in your room, lock up your stuff.”Trouble often starts when a traveler allows someone in a hotel room, said Joe A. McInerney, chiefexecutive of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry group. “Very few thingsthat happen in a guest room would have happened if the guest did not let the person in,” he said.Hotel lobbies have also become popular gathering spots, and that, too, can spell trouble. “Thelobby is becoming a place for young people to be social,” Mr. McInerney said. “We used to callthem ‘lobby lizards’ in the 1920s — people just hanging out in hotel lobbies. Now, it’s back withsocial networking.” That, he said, “is how they do things,” he added, “and that can be a problem.”Mr. McInerney noted a couple of other highly publicized sex cases involving hotels. One was therape of the singer Connie Francis in 1974. Her lawsuit against the hotel led to industrywidesecurity changes. Another he cited was the 1992 rape of Desiree Washington, a contestant in theMiss Black America pageant in Indianapolis, by the boxer Mike Tyson. After that incident, Mr.McInerney said, the hotel association began posting guidelines, available on its Web site, to helpprevent assaults.Men can be victims, too. A well-publicized case was the murder in January of the Portuguesejournalist Carlos Castro in New York. His companion, Renato Seabra, a male model, was charged.“On a crime of passion, there is really nothing you can do,” Mr. McInerney said, but there is aneed to “educate people that you do the same things” for both sexes regarding safety.While business travelers may worry about strangers, Stephen Barth, the founder ofhospitalitylawyer.com and a professor of hotel law at the University of Houston, said co-workerspresent risks, too. “People are normal until they check into a hotel room,” he said, adding, “Theentire duty of care that companies have for their employees, such as harassment policies, stillapply when traveling with another employee.”Mr. Barth said it was once common practice to give out the hotel room numbers of guests whenoutsiders called. This method was used in 2009 by a stalker, Michael David Barrett, to locate theroom where an ESPN sportscaster, Erin Andrews, was staying. He secretly videotaped her
  • 3. through a hotel door peephole.While hotels generally no longer give out room numbers, Mr. Barth said the same informationstill could be found on room service door tags and gym sign-in sheets.Most incidents in hotels are not widely reported, said Ms. Bond, the women’s travel expert.Ms. Duwe, the 2002 hotel attack victim, who now runs her own public relations company inIdaho, is a case in point. “I don’t think the attack hit the news because it wasn’t severe enough,”she said. She said she later took kick-boxing classes to protect herself. Still, she said, “Whenyou’re in the business center and someone cuts the light out and hits you from behind and you’rein flip-flops, it’s just an all-around bad situation.”

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