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Thu 1 Feb 2007 12:00 AM

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As safe as houses?

The question of security can make or break a sale, but agents who explain to customers exactly what to expect when travelling are more likely to clinch a deal.

Security is the number one priority for travellers the world over, whether they are a family of four or a delegation of 100 businessmen.

The bombings in Bangkok on New Year’s Eve were the most recent in a wave of international incidents that have attempted to cripple the tourism industry. The 9/11 attacks and to a lesser extent, the terror alert at London Heathrow in August, will haunt the commercial aviation industry indefinitely; and the unpredictable natural disasters that have shaken the foundations of the tourism industry in Southeast Asia are all factors that influence the way customers travel.

The global travel industry may be committed to ensuring the safety of travellers, but the approach to security differs vastly from country to country.

In Egypt for example, nearly every hotel has its own visible front-of-house security team, as well as obligatory metal detectors and security guards at the front door, and often roadblocks to keep traffic away from alternative entrances to the building.

“Location [of a hotel] is of no importance if the access and exits of any given location are monitored and controlled,” said Cesare Rouchdy, senior director of marketing, Egypt, Four Seasons.

The balance between achieving an adequate level of security and making the guest or passenger remain comfortable is crucial, and can have a significant effect on their overall impression of the hotel, he explained.

“Some guests feel secure when we apply our measures while others feel intimidated,” Rouchdy said.

“We are always courteous and calm when explaining or implementing security measures [because] panic is one of the worst actions that could be taken when securing people or places.”

Customers travelling to Egypt for the first time are often unaware of the security measures in place, so agents should inform customers of what to expect, and familiarise themselves with the procedures of individual hotels, he added.

On the other hand, holidaymakers who are wary about travelling to Egypt because of the security risks might be reassured to hear that such procedures are in place.

According to Marie Cazaux, director of public relations, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, luxury travellers in particular are growing increasingly concerned with “broader services”, including security.

“Making a guest feel safe and secure automatically instils a sense of well-being,” she explained. “Because we are situated on our own private island with only one entrance/exit, the property can be completely secured, providing a much-needed guarantee of safety. This is often a deciding factor when attracting individual guests as well as conferences and events.”

Private jet companies are increasingly highlighting security as a key selling point for their VIP air services.

“Privacy and security are an important factor, and these days time is money,” explained Paras Dhamachara, CEO of Dubai-based private jet charter and management company, Elite Jets.

Jet chartering is an option worth suggesting for customers for whom safety is a key issue, particularly senior level corporate groups, or small delegations visiting destinations that cannot be accessed by commercial air travel.

“Western Airlines don’t know Asia very well at this stage, and passengers can be worried or put off by security issues,” explained Dhamachara. “What better way to mitigate this than travelling in a limo in the sky?”

For commercial airlines in particular, security concerns escalate as the threat of international terrorism continues to plague the industry. While the short-term impact of terrorist attacks is all too plain, the lasting affect on the industry is one that manifests itself through tighter procedures in airlines and hotels around the world.

According to Imad Raad, head of corporate security, Air Arabia, security procedures are paramount, but should not at any stage compromise the comfort of the passenger.

“We cannot try to implement very stringent security measures, but at the same, we cannot be too lenient or flexible with the security; it has to be a situation where both the passengers and the airline are protected from any interference,” he said.

“Even though most passengers are aware of what is going on and appreciate the importance of the security measures, you cannot overdo it.”

Raad acknowledged that the impact of last year’s foiled terrorist attack on British Airways planes did cause a stir internationally, but that the response at Sharjah International Airport, which was used by around 1.4 million passengers in 2006, was modest: “We were proactive on some of the key flights, to destinations like Kabul and Colombo, where we prohibited the use of electronics and liquids,” he explained.

The response in the UK was more severe, and passengers are still limited in so far as what they can carry on board outbound flights leaving all of the country’s airports.

Liquids are only permitted if they are carried in bottles of less than 100ml, and these must be carried separate from the rest of the hand luggage in a small, clear plastic bag. Anything deemed in excess of the allowed amount must be discarded.

Passengers are also restricted to carrying one item of hand-luggage on-board the aircraft, and this must be limited to 56cm x 45cm x 25cm, or roughly the size of a laptop case.

While most airlines do issue their own warnings, agents should make sure that their customers are aware of this before they travel, to avoid complications at the airport, which in turn would reflect back on the agency.

"Making a guest feel safe and secure automatically instils a sense of well being."

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