Travel Security: Stay Safe @ Hotels

This information was originally posted by Peter Romanov @Locktsar and contains some very useful travel security advice whilst staying in hotels.

Do you travel and stay in hotels? Frequently or just the odd holiday trip? In my work life I do get to travel a lot and stay in hotels – and privately we as a family also get the occasional stay away from home.

I consider myself as a security conscious traveller and it probably helps that my line of work for the past 20 years or so has been in physical and electronic security. I have been fortunate in that not a single incident has happened either whilst travelling for work or pleasure.

CISA eSigno Contactless Smart Card lockSo, here is what I do when travelling, maybe it can act as guidance for your next travel;

In each hotel room, I make a quick assessment of risks and adjust my behaviour to these. Now, this is not only for security reasons but equally important from a safety perspective. For safety reasons I look at things like where the emergency exits are, can I see the fire alarm / smoke detectors? Do they appear to be working (never try and test though, can cause some trouble), what’s my best way of exit in case of emergency? Windows – can I get out via these?

From a security perspective I look at room keys, doors, windows and safe.

Room keys

I always check to see that the hotel has electronic key cards. Why? Old-fashioned metal keys can be copied, and who knows where those copies are?

Being security conscious and smitten by my work, I call the hotel up and ask what system they have, and if it a mag stripe type card or a contactless type card. Hotel staff may not be able to tell you exactly what system they have but they usually can tell you what type of key card they have and how you use it. If it is a contactless card, this is a good starting point. Ideally I am only looking for hotels that are using smart cards rather than budget proximity cards. The reason being that smart cards have a much higher level of security and are more difficult, if not impossible, to clone.

Electronic locks should be recoded after each guest. If the receptionist is handing you a card without you having seen it being coded (i.e. held against a programming device) then ask her to code you a new card. It’s unusual but some hotels actually do not re-code the cards after every guest.

Most electronic locks save records of whose keys have recently gained entry. Authorized keys are registered to their users. So if a guest reports a problem, security can tap into records stored in the lock’s mechanism and see the last hundred entries or so, be it a member of staff or the guest himself.

One thing that I don’t like is hotels that mark the electronic key cards with a room number. This is just advertising what room that key card operate and therefore can inspire opportunistic theft.

Most of the times you are given your key card in a folder which identifies the room. I know the hotels want you to carry this folder together with your card so that you can show it in the restaurant if you like to add your meal to the room bill. I always leave the folder in the room when I go out and carry just the un-numbered card. If you lose the key, the safety of your room won’t be compromised.

If you still arrive at a hotel that uses mechanical keys, here are some tips;

Some hotels still use metal keys attached to a large piece of sculpture or another ornament and expect guests to leave keys at the front desk when going out. Although this prevents guests from forgetting to return their keys upon departure, I am not a fan of this for several reasons.

  1. Privacy – personally I prefer privacy and anonymity rather than announcing my comings and goings. In some hotels, anyone can look at the key hooks or pigeonholes behind the desk and know if a room is occupied or empty.
  2. Security – these keys are usually well identified with the name of the hotel and room number. Losing it could expose you to a substantial risk.
  3. Space – I am not that keen on carrying around a big piece of metal the size of old-fashioned type-writer
  4. If you can, remove the key and just carry it, re-attaching it before check-out.

 Doors

I look at the door to my guest room to start with, followed by any other door such as one leading to an adjacent room. Does the door look secure, what type of lock has it got, does it look secure? Is there a secure privacy function? Is there a security chain? Is there a door viewer? Connecting doors to adjoining rooms: I always double check to make sure they’re locked.

One thing that I don’t do is to open my guest room door without having verified who it is that is on the other side. Even if I am expecting Housekeeping or Guest Services to knock on my door, I’d like to check through the viewer before opening the door. If the knock is unexpected, always ask and if you are unsure call reception or security to get verification before opening your door.

Windows

I love an open window, but before I sleep with a breeze, I do a quick analysis of window access. I actually look at windows before doors, simply because they typically face out to the unknown, whereas my guest room door faces an internal corridor.

First thing to look at is – do they open? If they do open, I need to know about outside access. Is there a balcony? If so, there’s probably access to mine from a neighbouring balcony. If you are on the ground floor, on an atrium floor, or if it has a rooftop out the window, I would not recommend sleeping with it open.

Of course it depends on the overall location and setting of the hotel, as well as the property in itself. If you are staying at a wilderness lodge I would perhaps worry more about wildlife than burglars. If you are staying at a five-star hotel I would expect a certain level of security & guarding – equally if staying at a budget hotel then probably security is budget as well.

Is there a safe?

Having completed an appraisal of the hotel room security combined with its overall quality, I now know how careful I need to be. In truth, I tend not to put the laptop in the guest room safe, rather just put it out of sight in one of my bags and lock this. What if I need to leave small valuables in my room? For me, my wallet, Ipad, Ipod, watch, jewellery – always in the guest room safe.

Speaking to people who work in the hotel industry they do mention to me that it’s not unusual for a hotel during peak travel seasons to use a lot of temporary help – “and sometimes the screening of these temporary employees is not as high as it could be”.CISA eSigno guest room safe

Always be mindful about hotel room theft and to protect your small valuables by locking them in the hotel room safe.

But is the safe safe? Well I generally feel secure with electronic safes that allow me to key in my own code or take one of my on cards and use it to swipe it. If your guest room has a safe that you can lock and unlock by using one of your cards, make sure it’s not a credit or debit card. Instead use something less valuable like a loyalty card that is not connected to any payment or credit information. Since the magnetic card data can be stored in the safe, it’s a precaution not to leave any data there that would allow your card to be cloned and used by a hacker. Personally, I don’t like the type of safe that takes a regular metal key – I would have the same concerns here as I have with mechanical keys to my room. Who else have a key to the safe other than you?

Hope this helps – travel safe my friends

This information was originally posted by Peter Romanov @Locktsar

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