Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How Safe Is Your Hotel?

Nine summers ago, two bombs exploded at beaches in Cantabria in northern Spain. There was a third bomb, which went off outside a branch of Barclays Bank. The devices had been planted by ETA.

None of these bombs caused any injuries. The Guardia Civil had acted on a call to the emergency services from someone who said they represented ETA. The two beaches were those of Laredo and Noja. The areas where the bombs had been planted were cordoned off. The one in Laredo was in sand next to the promenade. The other at Noja was in the dunes.

The locations were chosen because they are popular summer destinations for the Spanish. Cantabria's coast is not one that attracts a high number of foreign tourists. For ETA, its actions were against Spain. Terrorists they were, but theirs was a terror of an interior kind. They weren't exporters, except to France on a couple of occasions. Where foreigners were concerned, they could be targets, if only incidentally. In the summer of 2001, for instance, an ETA militant accidentally blew himself up in Torrevieja; seven people were injured. Three weeks later, a huge car bomb went off in Salou. There were no casualties.

A year on from the bombs in Cantabria, two officers with the Guardia Civil, Carlos Sáenz and Diego Salva, were killed in Palmanova when a bomb that had been placed in a patrol vehicle exploded. ETA terrorism had come to Mallorca, though to be accurate it had come to the island fourteen years before. On that occasion it had failed. Three ETA terrorists, who were renting an apartment near to the Marivent Palace under a false name, were arrested and found to have three submachine guns, two pistols, a rifle with telescopic sight and explosive devices. Their intended target had been the then king, Juan Carlos. They had arrived with their weaponry on a yacht.

Following the Palmanova bomb, four minor devices went off in parts of Palma. A response to them was to install cameras trained on certain beaches in Mallorca. There was to be a fuss about these. The tourism ministry had organised the installations. It hadn't asked for permission to train cameras on the public way. Later it emerged that there was something slightly dubious about the contract for the work; but that was how the tourism ministry was at that time.

The reason for these cameras was a fear that ETA might bomb beaches in the way that it had the previous summer. The fear was to prove to have been unfounded. But the fear resurfaced last year; at least where parts of the more hysterical British press were concerned. So-called Islamic State were going to bomb beaches.

We have had further hysteria this year. The SAS, for example, will be patrolling resorts. Or this was the conclusion one was supposed to draw. It was as preposterous as it was insulting in its implication that Spain's security forces were in need of assistance. These forces have enormous experience. Cooperation, advice and information sharing with British forces, yes; of course, yes. Special British forces on the streets? Hardly.

Security, it is an obvious thing to state, is a high priority for tourists. Mallorca has been reaping the benefits (some will argue the downsides) of terrorism in other parts of the Med. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the island's safety, but there can be no room for complacency.

Beaches and other public places are one thing; hotels are another. The president of the hoteliers federation, Inma Benito, says that hotel security has improved a great deal, although she adds that she is unaware of some hotels organising anti-terrorism audits. Apparently, there are specialist firms which will be conducting these. They will be looking, for example, at access controls, i.e. who comes and goes, and at exterior protection, such as barriers. There are to be other checks - rubbish containers, the level and type of surveillance and so on.

Hotels differ. Some are more easily protectable than others. Some offer open invitations, and not just to buildings; grounds, pools, restaurants, entertainment sites as well. Without naming them, I can think of any number of hotels which can be entered from the beach without any form of control. One just walks straight in. There's no need to enter via reception because access is available at the rear. One complex has public roads going through it. There is no actual entrance because of the nature of the complex. Security? Well, what security, one may well ask.

Accordingly, there is a great deal of vulnerability. But at least with the hotels, there is some control over who is staying in them. The events of 1995 and the failed terrorist attack highlight issues that we have today. Hiring an apartment. Hotels provide guest identity information to the police. They are obliged to. Holiday rentals? Could be anyone.

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