Why hotels are tempting targets for terrorists

Counter-terrorist police commandos secure the damaged Ritz-Carlton hotel in Jakarta on Friday after the blasts.
Bomb attacks in Jakarta on Friday are the latest in a long line of deadly strikes on prominent hotels worldwide that show, despite stringent security measures, they remain a favorite target for terrorists.

At least nine people were killed and more than 50 injured on Friday when bomb explosions ripped through the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in the Indonesian capital. With internationally known brands popular with foreign business travelers, such hotels make prime objectives for extremists seeking to maximize impact and publicity for their cause. Such threats also underscore the difficulty big name hoteliers face in trying to balance security with the comfort of their guests. And as highlighted by the strike on the Marriott — which was also devastated by a massive car bomb that killed 12 people in 2004 — even the most stringent of precautionary measures can fail to halt determined attackers. Alan Orlob, head of security at the Jakarta Marriott, said “robust” security had been in place at both hotels ahead of Friday’s attack, with all guests and staff passing though a series of intense checks before gaining access to the building. “When you drive up to one of these hotels, your car is stopped, it is completely inspected. Your luggage is taken out, it is inspected with what we call explosive vapor detectors.” He told CNN. “We have sniffer dogs at the hotel and when people enter the hotel itself, they walk through a metal detector.” At the Oberoi hotel in India’s financial capital Mumbai, one of the buildings involved in an audacious assault last November by terrorist gunmen that left more than 160 dead, security has been stepped up with bag scanners and metal detectors now in place. Watch how Oberoi stepped up security ยป But hotel managers admit they can never totally rule out the possibility of further attack. “We can never thwart an attack like that,” Devendra Bharma, executive vice president of Oberoi hotels and resorts in Mumbai, told CNN in a recent interview.

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“We can only put in deterrents, create barriers and put in as many checks as we can. We can never fight back something as severe as what we experienced.” Other significant hotel attacks also spotlight the potential danger. In June this year, three suicide attackers struck the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel in the Pakistani city of Peshawar killing at least seven people. The Marriott hotel in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad was also hit by a suicide truck bombing in September last year that left 53 dead. Other hotel casualties include six people shot by militants in Kabul’s Serena hotel in January 2008; 67 people in hotels in Amman, Jordan in November 2006; and 83 people in bombings across the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in July of the same year. It’s by no means a modern phenomenon. During the peak of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the Europa hotel in Belfast gained the dubious distinction of becoming the most bombed hotel in the world. Berlin’s Hotel Adlon Kempinsky, meanwhile, has a reputation for being the world’s most secure, with a suite that manager Stephen Interthal says is specially designed to meet the security demands of royalty and heads of state. Such measures come at a price though, with stays costing around $25,000-a-night. For normal hotels in at-risk areas, enhancing security could involve taking a more invasive look at guests, with background checks carried out before check-in, according to CNN security analyst Peter Bergen. Susan Gurley of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives says all hotels must tread a careful line in ensuring both the safety and comfort of their guests.

“There is a real balance between a sense of security and the sense that you are basically in a lockdown. So I think that every hotel is trying to find the exact balance,” she told CNN. “Now personally I don’t mind seeing one or two security guards walking around, it gives me a sense of security. But do I personally want to see people in the hotel lobby with machine guns patrolling for my security No.”