Mumbai attacks a wake-up call for hotel security

MUMBAI (Reuters) - The terror attacks in Mumbai last week have been a chilling reminder to India’s hotels to step up investments in security and surveillance systems, experts say.

Workers put up a banner outside the Taj Mahal hotel, one of the sites of the recent militant attacks, in Mumbai December 2, 2008. The terror attacks in Mumbai last week have been a chilling reminder to India's hotels to step up investments in security and surveillance systems, experts say. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Indian hotels spend a mere 3 percent of the project cost on building management systems, including security. That is less than half the spending in China and United States where 7-8 percent of the project cost is on security alone.

“So far the security was more for surveillance, general monitoring. They have to be intrusive,” said Pramoud Rao, managing director, Zicom Electronic Security Systems.

Last week, armed Islamist militants attacked the Taj Mahal Palace and the Trident-Oberoi - two of Mumbai’s best known luxury hotels - and other landmarks in a 60-hour frenzy, killing 171 people, many at the hotels, where scores were held hostage.

For security, hotels in India, largely rely on cameras with playback on site. Some have metal detectors and fewer still use scanners for small bags while cars were perfunctorily checked, leaving gaping holes in security, experts said.

Multiple checks including complete car scans, guests’ identification requests, all-luggage scans and action-sensor cameras fed offsite can help plug these gaps, they said.

The industry’s security “must be beefed up,” P.R.S. Oberoi, Chairman of EIH Ltd, owner of the Trident-Oberoi told a press meet on Saturday. “I think all hotels are vulnerable.”

“None of us are competent to really know what we need, so we are going to get security experts for what to do. We are not security experts.”

After the attacks, hotels in India’s financial hub, including The Four Seasons, Hyatt, and the Marriott are stepping up security at their properties, they said.


“If it is going to be an icon, they are forced to spend more on security,” said B. Muthukumaran, chief consultant on security practice, Gemini Communications Ltd, referring to the 105-year-old Taj property.

“A three or a two-star hotel, which is not so prominent, there has to be security. It need not be as highly sophisticated,” he added.

India’s electronic securities market is expected to grow 23 percent annually till 2012. The market in India, home to a billion people that has seen repeated terror attacks, was at just 11.5 billion rupees in 2007, a Frost & Sullivan report showed.

The global market is worth $48 billion, it added.

But the challenge is second-guessing an attacker’s mind, said Chender Baljee, chairman of Royal Orchid Hotels, which runs 11 hotels across India.

“You really have to think ahead of what terrorists are thinking, trying to find a gaping hole in the security system is a real challenge,” he said.

While nothing could have actually stopped the militants from attacking, security systems can control the extent of damage, said Zicom’s Rao. “No security system in the world can stop somebody from doing anything,” he said.

“But if my bag is screened, if I am checked and screened, I can do minimum damage, not maximum damage, so... the damage of whatever I am planning will be of much lesser intensity.”