ESPN video case shows holes in hotel security

NEW YORK (AP) - October 7, 2009 "This is a wakeup call for the hotel industry," said Peter Greenberg, author of "Hotel Secrets from the Travel Detective" and CBS travel editor.

Court papers say Michael D. Barrett requested and received a hotel room adjacent to ESPN reporter Erin Andrews at the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University. Barrett then allegedly jimmied the peephole of Andrews' hotel door, shot the videos and uploaded them to the Internet.

Until now, requests for adjacent rooms have been handled inconsistently throughout the hotel industry. If you ask for a room next to another guest, some hotels will call the other guest for consent, but many will simply go ahead and book it without confirming with the other party.

"There is no consistent policy within individual brands or across the industry," said John Burns, president of Hospitality Technology Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It is in the hotel industry's cultural DNA to attempt to satisfy guests' 'adjacent room' or 'connecting room' requests."

Such requests are not uncommon from extended families, tour participants and individuals traveling together for work or conventions. "It would not be unusual for a guest who affirmatively seems to know that another guest is registered to ask to be placed adjacent or near another guest and for that request to be honored," said Bjorn Hansen, a professor at New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

But Burns said "given the recent focus on this issue, I expect that policies related to handling this request are under consideration both at the property and brand level."

Joe McInerney, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, confirmed that his organization "sent an advisory to our members asking them to review all their guest privacy procedures and all of their security procedures to make sure their staff are doing everything they should be doing."

Another issue raised by the ESPN stalking case is how to stop peeping toms. An online company called PeepHole Security reported a recent surge of inquiries about interior covers for peepholes, including orders from individuals, hotels, and motels.

"Every chain, regardless of size, is going to use this to reevaluate their procedures and whether or not they feel like the peepholes in their rooms are adequate and tamperproof. It's all going to be on the table now," said Walt Baker, CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Network, which represents about 350 hotels around the state.

Bloggers and others posting online about the case suggest that travelers - especially women staying in hotels alone - smear Vaseline on the inside lens of peepholes to prevent anyone from looking in.

Greenberg says there's an even simpler solution: Put a piece of duct tape over the inside of the peephole.

Greenberg also said many large hotels already have 24-hour surveillance cameras in every hallway, but he expects this case will lead smaller properties to invest in the technology as well.

Some aspects of maintaining guest privacy are already standard throughout the hotel industry. Front desk clerks are usually careful not to say your room number aloud when you check in. Instead the number is typically written on the sleeve of your card key.

And when you call a hotel asking for someone by name, typically the call is put through, but the operator does not provide the room number. If you call and ask for a room number without providing a name, hotel operators usually ask for the guest name before putting the call through.

It's not unusual for high-profile cases involving lapses in guest security at hotels to affect the industry. In 1974, singer Connie Francis was raped and robbed in a hotel room. She later won a lawsuit against the hotel, and the case is widely considered to have led the hotel industry to upgrade locks, lighting and other aspects of security.

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