Surviving Hotel Terrorist Attacks

Burkina Faso Hotel Attack3

With hotels becoming an increasingly popular target for militant attacks around the world, the issue of hotel security and appropriate travel precautions is growing in importance for business travellers and tourists.

In one catastrophic year alone (2008), militants killed at least 54 people in a suicide bomb attack on Islamabad’s Marriott hotel, 71 people in the siege of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels in Mumbai, 9 in a suicide attack on Peshawar’s Pearl Continental, and 7 in the bombings of Jakarta’s Ritz Carlton and Marriott.

Most recently, 2015 saw over 60 foreigners killed in hotel terrorist attacks in Sousse (Tunisia), Bamako (Mali) and El Arish (Egypt) to name a few; and 2016 opened with the stabbings of tourists in a hotel in Hurghada (Egypt).

Panoptic Solutions advisers have travelled the world, often too high-risk locations, and the following is a summary of their best advice on simple measures to take to enhance your personal hotel security.

Before your trip

Know the environment into which you are travelling. It doesn’t occur to most people, but within just a 45-minute flight of Singapore or Hong Kong, you can be in a completely unfamiliar environment and one that poses hidden risks. Do your own research and, if necessary, seek specialist security advice on the country you are visiting in addition to the government travel advice available on the Internet. Panoptic Solutions offers advice on threat levels in each country and specific dangers to be aware of.

If you are travelling on a business trip, check that your company has surveyed and assessed the location, including your hotel, and that the assessment is up to date. If they don’t have one, ask “why?”

While major hotel chains may offer better protection from the majority of threats, they have been increasingly targeted in many locations as they hold high-value targets in the hotel terrorist attacks playbook: westerners. Be aware that, depending on location, overall security within even high-end hotels can fluctuate from hour to hour, day-to-day or even seasonally. Sometimes it may be preferable to ‘fly under the radar’ and stay at a smaller hotel but, again, do your homework (or have someone do it for you).

On arrival

While it’s not strictly about hotel security, the airport arrivals procedure is something that creates a lot of discussion among the advisers at Panoptic Solutions, so we’ll briefly touch on it here.

Regardless of whether it is a holiday or a business trip if you are arranging for a driver and vehicle to meet you at the airport for the trip to your office or hotel, use only a reputable firm and insist they do not have your name or company emblazoned on the sign they will hold up in the arrivals concourse. A good alternative is to ask that the sign simply have their company logo on it, along with your initials in large, bold print.

Before you hand over your luggage and possessions to your driver, politely ask to see their company ID. The same applies with a hotel driver or shuttle you may be planning to use – there are cases on record of unsuspecting travellers entering a fake hotel shuttle bus only to be robbed, often violently, then abandoned en route.

At the Hotel

Always be aware of your surroundings. Look at how far your hotel is from the office, the airport, meetings or emergency services such as hospitals or police stations. Some of this can be done via maps and Google Earth ahead of the trip. Your company should have this information to hand if they have surveyed the location you are travelling to or you may wish to have a security adviser, such as Panoptic Solutions, assist you.

Check the security measures for vehicles entering the property. Many hotels check vehicles for explosives and also screen people entering hotels.

If a hotel appears secure to the casual observer, it has more likely to have put protection measures in place and is, therefore, a less attractive target to criminals and terrorists alike. The boundaries of the property should be clearly defined with physical security measures to ensure only guests or patrons can access the grounds.

If possible, identify a ‘safe haven’ somewhere close to the hotel. A safe haven is another location to which you can move to seek protection, shelter, and assistance. It can literally be any place you feel you can safely go to hide and seek assistance. Your safe haven may even be on the hotel grounds but away from the main building itself – such as a guard post or caretakers hut.

Check the exits, fire escapes and routes away from the area and to your safe haven. Take the time to walk alternate exits from your floor and the hotel. Rehearse more than one way out and more than one route away from the hotel to your safe haven. This can all be done easily and surreptitiously while taking a stroll around the hotel area – if local security conditions permit.

During an attack

The following section does not represent everything you can or should do in the event of an attack upon your hotel but does provide some general guidance for you to consider that should shape your actions. Much of this will apply only if you are: a. aware of what is happening or about to happen, and b. able to extricate yourself from the initial point of hotel terrorist attacks. That said, a quick and decisive reaction to a sudden attack can save your life.

First: get away. Move as fast as you can away from the point of the attack to either your safe haven or entirely out of the area. If the attackers are shooting, stay low and move in erratic zig-zags until you are sure you are clear then move as fast, and as directly, as you can out of the area.

If you become trapped inside the hotel and are unable to clear the area or make it to your safe haven, make your way to a room, any room, and lock and barricade it from the inside. Switch off any ‘’do not disturb’ lights at the door (if an accommodation room) and turn the room lights off along with any television or radio. Draw the blinds or curtains fully. Lie on the floor and remain silent. Do not respond or open your door to anyone – even if they say they are police or other security forces. Survivor testimony from Mumbai and Mali points convincingly to the success of ‘hunkering down.’ Terrorists roaming hotel corridors are looking for opportunity targets and will soon move on if frustrated by a locked or immovable door.

If you have moved to your safe haven, or have locked yourself away, do not re-emerge until you are absolutely sure security forces have the situation under control – this would usually be signalled by a number of loud hailer or PA announcements. Just because the situation is suddenly quiet does not mean the attack is over. When you do emerge, do so swiftly but with your hands above your head. Keep your hands raised until such time as you have been collected by security forces and cleared.


Hotel terrorist attacks on a hotel or tourist destination is a complex and chaotic situation. There are no easy answers and no ‘one best way’ to surviving such an attack. However, with a little preparation, maintaining your situational awareness and keeping a cool head you can give yourself the best chance of survival.

For more information on this subject, or to discuss your needs in relation to this topic, contact Panoptic Solutions on 1300 651 407 or

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