Short story: Hotels are just as fine as other businesses. It’s guns in the U.S. that are the problem.
The mass shooting that took place on October 1 in Las Vegas has raised a number of questions for the travel and hotel industry in regards to safety and security.
On Sunday evening, a gunman opened fire onto a crowd of 22,000 people gathered at the Route 91 Harvest Festival from his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing more than 58 people and injuring more than 500. It was one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
Las Vegas is one of the most popular travel destinations in the U.S. In 2016, the city welcomed 42.9 million visitors, 6.3 million of which came to the city specifically to attend meetings and events, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). The city is also home to more than 150,000 hotel rooms.
LVCVA president and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter issued a statement, saying, “This was a horrific, yet isolated, incident. At this time, it is important to allow the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police to conclude their investigation into the incident and to attend to the needs of the victims and their families. Las Vegas is a strong community that will work through this tragic incident. We are grateful beyond words to our incomparable law enforcement, first responders and everyone who continues to help victims and their families.”
In a press statement issued on October 2, MGM Resorts International CEO and chairman Jim Murren said, “We’re working with law enforcement in every way possible. At the moment, we are deferring communications about the investigation to the FBI and Las Vegas Metro PD.”
In a statement, Jennifer Forkish, VP of corporate communications for Caesars Entertainment, which operates Caesars Palace and other hotels located on the Las Vegas Strip, said, “We are constantly reviewing our security policies and practices to keep our guests and employees safe. We are also working very closely with law enforcement, especially Las Vegas Metro, to continue to keep our properties secure.”
Because of the city’s gaming-friendly environment, the city’s hotel-casinos are among the most sophisticated in terms of hotel security and surveillance activity: very little goes unnoticed on the casino floor.
But given what transpired on Sunday night, hotel officials and local tourism authorities are no doubt going to reexamine their respective safety and security measures, and they’ll be asking themselves what more they can do to assure the safety and security of their guests and employees going forward.
It’s an especially difficult situation for the hospitality industry to address, given the fact that hotels, by their very nature, are designed to welcome people from all over the world, and to make everyone feel welcome. It’s the very definition of the word hospitality, yet it also opens up hotels to a number of vulnerabilities. And at the same time, those same hotels have a responsibility to keep their guests, patrons, and staff safe.
It’s worth noting, too, that all destinations and markets are different. Las Vegas has different rules than New York, which is different from Paris, Tel Aviv, and so on.
What follows are just a few of the questions they’ll have to consider in the aftermath.
Should Hotels Install Metal Detectors or Baggage Screening Areas?
The gunman who checked into the Mandalay Bay hotel on September 28 did so with multiple firearms in his possession, and was able to bring them into his hotel room when he checked in.
Unlike some hotels in other parts of the world, including Israel and India, the majority of hotels in the U.S. do not have metal detectors or baggage screening areas located near their entryways. Following the terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai in 2008 at the Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, both hotel companies instituted stronger hotel security measures which included more stringent bag and vehicle checks. And in other destinations including Jakarta, Islamabad, and Tel Aviv, those types of screenings are fairly standard at most hotels.
A spokesperson for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, when asked if it had any statistics on the number of U.S. member hotels who have metal detectors or baggage screening, said, “We don’t track that level of information from our members.”
Should hotels in Las Vegas and other major destinations consider putting metal detectors and baggage screening machines at their entrances, they’ll need to hire more staff and security personnel to conduct those checks. That level of frontline security is something generally seen at airports, not at hotels, but given what happened it could begin to be the norm for hotels in Las Vegas and beyond.
And should that become more standard for large hotels like those in Las Vegas, some of which have more than a thousand hotel rooms in a single property, hotels will also have to address how they manage those security check areas and how they manage the thousands of people who flow into their hotels day in and day out.
What About Nevada’s Gun Laws?
Nevada has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the U.S. In Nevada, open carry of firearms is legal without a permit, and the law doesn’t require gun owners to have licenses or register their weapons. There is also no limit to the number of firearms that an individual can possess. Certain automatic assault weapons and machine guns are legal as long as they are registered and possessed in adherence to the federal law. Local law enforcement issues concealed handgun licenses.
Given the current gun laws in Nevada, it’s questionable how much Mandalay Bay hotel staff could have done to prevent shooter Stephen Paddock from checking into his hotel room with his weapons.
Had hotel staff known about the firearms, they would have had little legal recourse to inform law enforcement and have them investigate Paddock. The shooter also had no prior criminal record.
State and federal laws prevent sharing of certain kinds of information related to gun ownership and possession. This leads into the next question, which is: how hotels can balance respecting guests’ privacy while also addressing concerns related to security and safety?
How Can Hotels Balance Respecting Guest Privacy with Security Concerns?
Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said that hotel employees who had been in Paddock’s room prior to Sunday didn’t notice anything wrong. But the incident raises questions as to how much hotels are required to respect guests’ privacy as well as ensure the safety of other guests and staff.
Hotels are no stranger to working with law enforcement on issues related to narcotics and human trafficking, for instance. In September, two hotels in Phoenix were revealed to be sharing information about suspected undocumented immigrants with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But how, or should, hotels be expected to address potential threats like this without infringing on guests’ privacy?
Should hotel staff be asked to keep more of an eye on guests and what guests keep in their rooms? Should hotels be doing random background checks on guests who check into their hotels, or run their passports and other forms of identification through security before giving them a key? And how do employees do this when they are one of a few employees on staff at a select-service property, or trying to sift through hundreds of guests at a Las Vegas Strip mega-hotel?
Do Hotels Need Even More Surveillance?
The casinos of Las Vegas have a worldwide reputation for having some of the most comprehensive surveillance systems in the world, but does that same level of technological sophistication apply to other public areas of the hotels? Or to the guest room floors? That’s something hotels will also have to consider going forward as they review their security procedures and systems.
Will Hotels Implement Guest Procedures for Attacks Like They Do for Fires?
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Sunday, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s parent company, MGM Resorts International, issued a statement on Twitter saying, “Law enforcement requested that we put hotels in the vicinity on lockdown to ensure guest safety.”
That lockdown, which prohibited guests from entering their hotel rooms, was in place until about 8 a.m. this morning, approximately 10 hours after the shooting took place. MGM Resorts has more than a dozen different hotels in Las Vegas, seven (Mandalay Bay, Delano Las Vegas, Luxor, Excalibur, MGM Grand, The Signature at MGM Grand, and Monte Carlo) of which were close to where the shooting took place.
While the nature of an attack on a hotel could take many different forms, hotels may have to consider implementing different procedures for guests to follow in the event of an attack, as they already do now in case of an emergency such as a fire.
Who Are Hotels Hiring for Their Security?
Another question to be raised will have to do with whom hotels are hiring to carry out security at their properties. Are they using third-party contractors? How closely are they working with local law enforcement? Will they begin to hire more of their own security staff going forward? Will the visible presence of increased security officers help assuage guests’ fears — or contribute to them?
What Kind of Impact Will This Have on Meetings and Events in Las Vegas?
Aside from the impact this shooting may have on the city’s overall tourism numbers, the impact on the city’s meetings and events industry could be especially impacted, especially given the nature of this Sunday’s attack: the gunman targeted more than 22,000 country musical festival goers who were gathered in an open area near McCarren International Airport.
In Cvent’s annual list of the top meetings destination in the U.S., Las Vegas was ranked No. 2, just behind Orlando, Florida. The 6.3 million convention attendees who came to Las Vegas in 2016 also set a record, according to the LVCVA. The city hosted a total of 21,864 conventions alone in 2016, according to the LVCVA.
The event organizers behind the upcoming IMEX America conference, an annual gathering of meetings and tourism industry professionals taking place in Las Vegas from October 10-12, immediately issued the following statement to their attendees following the shooting, confirming that their event will proceed as planned and assuring attendees of their safety. Last year, IMEX America welcomed more than 12,000 attendees from around the world.
“Both IMEX America and the Sands have very strong security in place, with both visible and plain clothes security teams in the venue and at the tradeshow,” the note said. “Over the coming days we will be working closely with the Sands, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Las Vegas authorities to assess any additional security measures that are needed at this time. We will take their full advice in ensuring the best possible security and safety of our guests.”
Speaking on Global Meetings Industry Day in 2016, Meeting Professionals International president and CEO Paul Van Deventer said, “Over 44 percent of our planners said security and risk management has become the top topic when they meet with their executives on strategic planning. It’s becoming part of how we do business. We know it’s going to happen. So how are you preparing for it? How are you changing your policies and procedures to prepare your attendees for it as well? It is now part of the DNA of meeting planning.”
How Could This Have Been Prevented?
Las Vegas Sheriff Lombardo said at a news conference held on October 2, “We had no knowledge of this individual. I don’t know how it could have been prevented.”
And that is, without doubt, the biggest question that will weigh on Las Vegas hotel and tourism officials’ minds in the coming days and weeks: could this have been preventable?
It’s obviously difficult to say how, but going forward, it’s certain that the hotel and tourism industry, especially in Las Vegas, will begin to consider what measures they can take, going forward, to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future.
Some of the solutions may lie directly in the hands of hotel companies, such as the decision to install metal detectors or baggage screening areas in their properties. Others will have to address larger issues that pertain to current gun laws in the state, and to laws regarding hotel guest privacy.
In a statement, Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said, “As a business that is centered on serving the public, no issue is more important than safety and security. Hotels have safety and security procedures in place that are regularly reviewed, tested and updated as are their emergency response procedures. As we better understand the facts in the coming days, we will continue to work with law enforcement to evaluate these measures.”
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Photo credit: Reed Broschart, center, hugs his girlfriend Aria James on the Las Vegas Strip in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a concert Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. The couple, both from Ventura, Calif., attended the concert. Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press