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In the wake of the worst mass shooting in US history, authorities are scrambling to figure why and how it happened, and whether it could have been prevented. In the meantime, both travelers and hotels have been left to ponder what permanent changes the Mandalay Bay incident will bring to the hospitality industry.
Experts said there are basically three paths hotels could follow post-Mandalay Bay, none of them mutually exclusive. First, the federal government could step in and issue guidelines or regulations for companies that provide lodging — a possibility experts dismissed almost immediately.
“This is the US, and our security sector has been heavily politicized,” said Jeff Moore, head of the security data company Muir Analytics and the website SecureHotel.us. “We need to have a serious conversation about terrorism and mass shooters and what we’re willing to do and not willing to do, but I’m not sure that’s how things are going to play out.”
“It’s legal to profile in some of those countries [with more stringent security at hotels] on the basis of culture or religion, and we just haven’t reached that point of giving up constitutional protections,” said Stephen Barth, a professor of law at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, and founder of the Global Travel Risk Summit Series.
Another, and more likely, scenario is that leaders in the industry convene and come up with their own set of security standards, handling the issue in the private sector while keeping participation voluntary. The problem with that is that any solution would almost certainly cost money, and guests would likely revolt against yet another hotel fee, whether imposed by the industry or the government.
“We already collect hotel-occupancy taxes, which are earmarked for promoting tourism, and I haven’t heard anyone say they’re willing to to take some of that for security instead,” Barth said. “The industry has already gotten slapped pretty hard for surcharges for energy or occupancy or whatever.”
The third, and most probable way it’ll play out? Hospitality will react individually to the events in Las Vegas, adjusting their equipment and protocols according to what they think their guests will tolerate. But even those changes could come in several forms — from turning hotels into veritable fortresses — as can be seen in places like parts of the Middle East — with reinforced walls, blast windows, traffic barriers and meticulous screening, to doing nothing different at all. And most experts said Americans should expect US hotels to hew closer to the latter.
“I don’t see magnetometers and wands becoming standard,” said W. Michael Susong, senior vice president of global risk services for iJet, which provides security assessments and intelligence for hotels around the world. “Take the Mandalay Bay: over 3,000 rooms, two people, three bags to a room? That’s 10,000 pieces of luggage every 24 hours. Do you inspect them in the parking lot? Drag the process into the lobby, where a bomb could go off and do more damage? Where does it end?”
“Security continues to be a top priority at all of MGM Resorts as our security team is working tirelessly to protect the safety of our guests and facilities,” MGM Resorts spokeswoman Debra DeShong said in a statement. “MGM Resorts has increased its level of security to add to the level of comfort and safety of our guests and employees. The company has procedures in place related to the safety of our guests and employees, and it remains of utmost importance for our security team. MGM Resorts works consistently with local and national law enforcement agencies to keep procedures at our resorts up to date, and [they] are always improving and evolving. We continue that close working relationship now during the ongoing investigation into this tragic incident.”
MGM Resorts is the parent company of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.
C. David Shepherd, CEO of Las Vegas-based Readiness Resource Group Inc. and former executive director of The Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino, estimated the cost of a standard metal detector for a door to be about $50,000, and the cost of 24-hour security personnel for a single entrance to come to $250,000 a year. The cumulative costs could make even casinos raking in billions take pause.
“These are big places,” he said. “You might think a hotel has only five to seven entrances on average, but it’s a lot more than that — one entrance might have 16 doors. The Venetian alone has 167 exterior doors. What about the Las Vegas convention center? They have 1,500 doors. And we have to have all these doors based on people leaving safely in case of a fire.”
Even if hotels were to install screening measures in its entrances, guests would inevitably tire of them, experts agreed.
“At an airport, people go through a screening one time and then get on an airplane,” Barth said. “In a hotel, you’re going in and out maybe 10 times a day.”
Overt security measures also face resistance from ingrained industry culture.
“Hotels, rightfully so, are places of of hospitality, so they don’t want to turn into armed camps,” Moore said. “They’re concerned with providing comfort and a nice place to stay for businessmen and vacationers — and ROI [return on investment]. They frequently don’t want to get involved in increasing the sophistication of their security too much beyond what they’re already doing.”
“If history is going to teach us anything, it’s that this type of act is probably not going to create a deal of change, at least not now,” Barth said.
At least not change visible to hotel guests, that is. Most experts said they expected more short-term emphasis on training for active-shooter situations at larger hotels and chains.
“Training of staff always seems to be the last priority, but in the end it’s often what would have been the differentiator,” Susong said. “Humans have good instincts, but sometimes we don’t say anything about it or don’t know how to pass that information on.”
Down the line, technology might offer hotels acceptable compromises between security and convenience. Barth said advances in predictive analytics were promising, for example.
“We’re already using it to detect fraud,” he said. “Could we use it to detect anomalies with guests?”
In the long term, the Mandalay Bay shooting could conceivably even spur revolutions in the architecture of US hotels, including less obtrusive street barriers and structural cladding, or compartmentalization to allow hotel staff to seal off attackers — though Susong was skeptical.
“The aesthetics of hotels fight against crime-prevention design,” he said.
One thing that everyone seems to take for granted, though, is that once the memories of the shooting fade, so will the feeling of urgency to make permanent changes to how the hospitality sector keeps people safe.
“You can’t stay at the highest vigilance levels 24/7 forever,” Susong said. “It’s not sustainable.”
Featured image of a metal detector at a hotel in Rabat, Morocco, by Abdelhak Senna / AFP / Getty Images
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