Terror Attacks on Soft Targets

Las Vegas Convention Authority Security

A Vapor Detection® handler team patrols the Las Vegas Convention Center. Source: Las Vegas Newswire

A combination of enhanced security measures at traditional hard targets and changing terrorist strategy have resulted in an increased number of terrorist attacks against soft targets such as hotels and resorts in recent years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, al-Qa’ida pursued a strategy that often-prioritized hard targets for spectacular attacks, including military facilities, embassies, and aviation.

In contrast, ISIL/Da’esh encourages small-scale attacks and its recruitment of a relatively high number of fighters have increased the risk of attacks on soft targets. As evidenced in London, Paris, Columbo, Brussels, Istanbul, Bamako, Ouagadougou, Orlando, Grand-Bassam, and elsewhere, the clear human, economic, and political consequences of these types of attacks demonstrate the need for improved international and local preparedness focused on soft target protection.

Hotel and Resort Terrorist Attacks in the United States

Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Shooting

Police photo from inside the Las Vegas shooter’s hotel room. Source: New York Daily News

According to Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, The devastating events of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, were manifestly damaging to lodging demand, as well as to other segments of the tourism industry. On a 49% room occupancy, the demand for rooms fell almost 5% in the initial 4-month post-attack period with luxury hotels being hit hardest. The average daily rate dropped by $1 million USD (in real dollars).

On Oct. 1 2017, Steven Paddock, a 64-year-old professional video poker player, shattered windows of his 32nd floor hotel suite in Las Vegas and unleashed withering gunfire at the country music festival below before killing himself. His vehicle was found at the hotel’s massive parking garage with a potentially deadly cargo of 1,600 rounds of ammunition and 90 pounds of chemical explosives.

In 2018, Las Vegas welcomed 42 million visitors and hosted almost 24,000 conventions (Approx 6.5 million people). On average, 97 percent of the 149,158 rooms available were booked during weekends. In 2017, 39 million people visited the city of Las Vegas which was a significant dip in numbers in the year after the October 1st2017 shooting.

Welcome to Las Vegas Sign

Las Vegas remains one of America’s most popular tourist destinations. Source: Las Vegas 360

Given what we know about lodging demand from Cornell’s study of hotels post-9/11, it’s hard not to link the effect the shooting had on Las Vegas tourism and the drop in visitor numbers.

In Las Vegas, airplanes still carry loads of tourists to the desert oasis, convention-goers fill large halls to discuss the latest industry trends, and slot machines continue to ring in the casinos, but more stringent security measures should be applied to protect patrons and hotel, resort and casino revenue—which contributes to the tourism revenue which amounts to $60 billion dollars per year. From a security perspective, the most important figure to remember is that for every dollar spent on preventative measures, you will spend $6 dollars on recovery.

The Impact of Terrorism on Tourism in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka terrorist attack

Officials survey the damage left by a terror attack in Sri Lanka. Source: Reuters

Tourism revenue had grown rapidly since the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil war against Tamil insurgents in the north and east of the country ended in 2009. But exclusive data collected by Reuters shows bookings have slumped since Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 killed at least 253 people, many of them tourists.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka was confident that its critical tourism sector would recover from the setback. “Not only Sri Lanka, Egypt, Tunisia, Northern Ireland and Turkey has gone through this, Bali had been through it. Tourism, resorts and hotels will recover, but it is unfortunate for the economy… we have come through many such incidents of terror and war,” Wickremesinghe told TV reporters in Colombo.

The bombings in Kuta, Bali, were almost 17 years ago, but subsequent airport arrivals data shows that recovery in tourism took a year. To aid in the future recovery and negate a repeat of recent events, resort and hotel security needs to be more robust with added measures such as explosive detection K9s and a more visible policing presence.

 India’s Tourism Slump After Terrorist Attacks

Cancellation rates in India hit 30%-35% after the Taj and Trident Hotel attacks in Mumbai 2008. The city is no stranger to terrorism— the bustling, teeming metropolis on India’s western seaboard has faced nearly a dozen militant attacks since the early 1990s, most of them in the form of explosives placed on its overcrowded public transport systems. The South Asian nation’s financial capital has thus become known for its resilience, and the so-called “Mumbai spirit” that allows it to bounce back and move on from such atrocities.

 In November 2008, however, the gunning down of 166 people in a series of coordinated simultaneous attacks by terrorists who entered from the Arabian Sea that frames Mumbai’s picturesque skyline would make the city— and country— take a long, hard look at itself.

India’s financial capital Mumbai was turned into a war zone by a group of Pakistani gunmen who launched coordinated attacks in the heart of the city. They targeted two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, a tourist restaurant and a crowded train station. Three days of carnage killed 166 people, including foreign tourists, and wounded hundreds more.

In the months following the 2008 attacks, cancellation of rooms had risen at TATA-owned hotels in the country which seen occupancy rates at one of its key properties fall by a third after the terror attacks that left 166 dead. Owners of The Trident-Oberoi hotel, which reopened a month after 22 visitors and 10 employees were killed in the siege by Islamist gunmen, said cancellations after the attack on the Trident were heavy which echoed true for most locations in the country with leisure and business travelers deciding to stay away from India after the 2008 attacks.

India hotel attack 2008

An Indian soldier takes cover amidst the chaos during the November 2008 terror attacks. Source: NPR

Enhancing Security at Soft Targets

Soft Targets and Crowded Places (ST-CPs), such as hotels, resorts, casinos and festivals, are locations that are easily accessible to large numbers of people and have limited security or protective measures in place, making them vulnerable to attack. Shootings and bombings using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are a common security concern related to terrorism and violence in the United States. High-profile domestic incidents have occurred, and international attacks are frequently in the news. Hotels & resorts are not immune from shootings and IED incidents, including bomb threats, suspicious items, and actual bombings.

The US Department of Homeland Security Security and Resiliency Guide defines tasks and related processes that security managers and staff at public assembly venues can use to understand and improve their ability to perform counter IED (C-IED) activities and make decisions, including the increased use of K9 teams for detection purposes.

If you are not already using K9’s as part of your layered security approach, consider their benefits and decide which discipline is best for your needs.

Understanding the Explosive Detection Dog (EDD) differences:

There are three distinct and very different disciplines of EDD teams, all effective in their own unique deployment scenarios:

  • Traditional EDD: These dogs are trained to see static objects such as buildings, vehicles, open areas, and luggage as a productive area of search. Traditional canine teams are not trained or used to screen people.
  • Person-borne EDD: These dogs are trained that people are a productive area of search, and are typically deployed to search static or slow moving pedestrian lines. Person-borne EDD canines are limited in the amount of people they can screen at any given time. They also experience operational limitations, stereotype personnel that resemble training targets, and can be intrusive during search.
  • Vapor Detection® EDD: Vapor Detection® canines are trained for mass pedestrian screening. The U.S.-patented training process developed by Auburn University Canine Science Program sees dogs trained to be obedient to the explosive or weapon odor itself and not see people or objects as the productive area of search. This non-obtrusive screening method is used by major police and government agencies around the world, sports franchises, and commercial organizations. VWK9 is the largest U.S. provider of body-worn explosive and weapon detection canines, and is the exclusive provider of Vapor Detection® canine teams.

Click here to learn about the EDD differences.

About The Author

Derek O'RourkeDerek O’Rourke is Vapor Detection® K9’s Director of International Operations with responsibility for resorts and casinos, a former member of the Irish Defence forces with over 20 years in security project management experience for large global events, he is a Canadian resident who sits and advises on the Soft Targets and Crowded Places Advisory Committee (STCPAC) for Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) and the City of Ottawa, he also sits and advises on Transport Canada’s working group on explosive detection dog handler teams (EDDHT).