Sri Lanka Attacks Force Focus on Hotel Security
The coordinated attacks against eight sites in Sri Lanka on April 21, targeting Christian churches and hotels have resulted in the world’s most destructive terrorist attack since the 2002 Bali bombing.
At the latest count, 321 people have been killed and 500 wounded. By comparison, the October 2002 Bali attack killed 202 people and wounded about 400. Most of the victims were Christian worshippers, celebrating Easter Sunday. However, at least 39 of the victims were international guests staying at some of Sri Lanka’s leading hotels. The wholesale murder of innocent victims at prayer or as guests at a hotel has been rightly condemned by a legion of heads of state and the world’s religious leaders.
However, it is already becoming clear that Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is set to pay a heavy price for the actions of extremists in their midst. The end of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in 2009 led to a resurgence of tourism. When I wrote the Sri Lanka chapter in my book, Restoring Tourism Destinations in Crisis in 2003, Sri Lanka was struggling to attract 400,000 international tourists. By 2018 Sri Lanka attracted a record 2.33 million foreign tourists and there were expectations that this would reach 3 million by 2020. At best, in the short to medium term, Sri Lanka tourism faces an uphill battle to restore confidence with its global tourist market and industry stakeholders.
While I sincerely hope that tourism to Sri Lanka will recover over time, the general global experience is that terrorism (especially terrorism in which tourists are killed and injured) is poison for tourism. Turkey and Egypt are two of many countries in recent years which have experienced tourism slumps following terrorist attacks which have targeted tourists.
In the days immediately after the April 21 attacks there is evidence that even more attacks were thwarted, targeting Colombo’s airport and bus station.The three major hotel attacks at the Colombo Shangri La, Kingsbury, and the Cinnamon Grand hotel involved attacks on hotel guests at breakfast.
There is a global lesson to be learned from this for hoteliers. In recent years, a disproportionate number of terrorists attacks against tourists have targeted major international hotels. I am the first to admit that striking the right balance between hospitality to the community and exercising duty of care to provide guest security in CBD hotels is very difficult.
A growing number of hotels in “at risk ” destinations have taken on board the need to screen people entering and checking in at hotels. Posting armed security guards after an atrocity is only done for show.
The challenge for the world’s major international hotel chains is to set some global common minimum standards for hotel security. These shared global standards already apply in aviation, cruising and airports. While the accommodation sector is one of the most varied in our industry, a start needs to be made with international luxury hotels which cater to international guests.