Read part one here.
Choosing a hotel for me is like selecting a harbour area or forward operating base in the bush. There are lots of considerations and checks to be made before I go firm. You would not just bowl on out there and try and find something blind if you had the choice.
Remember the P’s “prior planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance”
As with an operation the preparation starts when I get a target and or a mission. In this case it was to stay in a hotel in Istanbul. But it could be any city in the world nowadays. Terrorism has hit indiscriminately anywhere it can, nowhere can be deemed safe anymore but I can improve your chances with some simple tips. These measures will in time just become routine and you won’t even notice them. You just need to make sure you don’t become complacent.
Use the internet to prepare for your trip
So before I even get into country I’m conducting an electronic recce. I’m finding out as much as I can about where I’m going. I’m looking for a decent hotel but nothing too flashy or likely to become a target. I’m looking at areas and finding out what the demographic split is. In Turkey for example, the town is split into a European side and an Asian one. I stayed in the European half but that was not to say it was more dangerous as there was a less dense populous of immigrants from Syria. I used local knowledge to confirm things but I also conducted studies online. The FCO gives some great advice and I also use apps like Sputnik. I scan news channels and update searches for the entire time I am planning my travel. Things can change in a very short time. In Tunisia for instance, things went noisy without warning. The system failed and even the FCO made some wrong calls. It is important you exhaust as many sources as you have available to you. The FCO may miss something the State Department has picked up on. Local real time reports may be completely different to news reports. Constant monitoring of all sources will give you the best picture. If in doubt, better to plan for the worst.
My hotel is a massive decision. I want it to have good security away from main drags where a potential vehicle bomb could be driven at speed into the place. It should have a stand off at the front where vehicles have to slow down, stop and even get searched before they reach anywhere they could do harm. I get all this info from Google Maps where I conduct a ground study looking at the whole area for places where easy access for the wrong people could be disastrous. Is there a private beach ? How is access controlled? What escape routes are there if it goes wrong; are all things I’m looking for on my study. You need to do a bit of homework to find out what events are on at the hotel while you are there and what they have hosted before your stay. No good finding out that you are there in the middle of an extremist Islamic convention or that’s the hotel has tolerated events which affect your security. If you are in an emergency state or somewhere that it’s still hot, you may find that government agencies have set up in your hotel. In Jerusalem Tony Blair was in the American outpost for a while. That made the place more attractive than it would have otherwise been and although he had good security, you didn’t want to be caught in a crossfire. As such, I used to choose a slightly down market hotel a little less conspicuous and out of the way.
You have arrived at your hotel, now what?
Once you’re in country and it’s time to occupy your chosen hotel, the check in and subsequent frequenting of your room are all important. I’m asking for a room away from the front of the hotel if I think that’s the most likely place for an explosive device. I don’t want to be on the ground floor but I also don’t want to be any higher than a fire rescue ladder. Around the third and fourth floors are usually a good choice. If I can be close to an emergency exit, all good. I don’t want to be right on the lift entrance, I want to be out of the way where I can choose to take the stairs to avoid setting patterns. If you have the last room on a corridor then anyone coming that far needs a reason but make sure there is an escape route that is easily accessible. If I can’t satisfy my requirements on check-in, then I’ll not even unpack I’ll grab some unwanted hair ( you know where from ) and throw it down the toilet and request that they change my room. I don’t think I’ve ever been refused a change of room ever. I used to stay regularly in the Marriott in Islamabad and when it was attacked, none of the rooms I had stayed in were affected by the blast. I don’t make this stuff up, I do it religiously. Once I am happy with my room, I conduct my own little walk round. I am looking for all the ways in and out of the hotel. If there is a fire, it is the wrong time to learn the escape route when you have your nose on the ground to avoid choking to death. You may not get out if you have not rehearsed the way. When I put my stuff away, don’t think you can hide anything of value in your room, even in a safe. The hotel know it better than you. Vital stuff should go everywhere with you. I have a small covert pouch which I wear and is waterproof. I have my travel docs and cards in there. If I’m on holiday I may have the cleaner in, if I’m working I never have the cleaner in. I make my own bed and change my towels when I see the trolley in the corridor.
Like I said at the beginning, it seems a bit much and to the untrained person I may seem a little over the top. You can never be too cautious in my book. I’m still enjoy myself when I go away however I also have a little peace of mind as well.
Featured image courtesy of Al Jazeera.