PREPARATION: Disaster can strike anyone, anywhere, but people who work in tourism are especially conscious of the risks. That’s why more and more hotel employees are preparing for potential hostage-taking events — and why companies that prepare them are seeing an increase in business.
Hyatt hotel executive Andres Gonzalez travels often from his base in Miami to international destinations for hotel openings. Gonzalez told The Wall Street Journal that he is taking special courses to prepare for the possibility of terrorism, hostage-takings and robbery. “You have to be more aware, but you don’t want to get too paranoid,” he says.
Gonzalez and colleagues recently took a two-day intensive course from the Center for Personal Protection and Safety (CPPS) in Reston, Virginia. “Every traveller ought to have some baseline training,” explains CPPS founder Randy Spivey. “It’s a life skill now,” comments Spivey, a former survival trainer with the US defence department. He says that participants learn automatic responses to dangerous situations, much as pilots do.
His colleague and fellow trainer Dave Benson says that most people caught up in hostage or terrorism situations think they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Benson, who was head of diplomatic security training for the U.S. State Department, says that in most cases, people’s behaviour causes them to be targeted. So in a dangerous situation, it is important not to draw attention to yourself, for example by volunteering your nationality. On the other hand, you should not lie, because you are likely to be found out in the end.
"Every traveller ought to have some training — it's a life skill." Randy Spivey
Travel intelligence services such as International SOS and iJet International are seeing an increase in business, at least partly because of terrorism attacks in major European cities. Bruce McIndoe, founder and chief executive of iJet, says the company’s revenues grew 63 per in 2016 cent compared to 2015. In addition to safety alerts and emergency assistance, they provide travellers with crisis training.
In Andres Gonzalez’s case, the “hostage” scene took place in a fictional hotel restaurant in Mexico City. An actor played the role of a gunman who wanted revenge for the death of his brother, an illegal immigrant who was shot while attempting to cross the border into the US. “The unexpected part was how real it felt inside,” Gonzalez says.