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A deteriorating economy and fears of further terrorist attacks have hit the hotel industry hard, as would-be guests opt to stay home and watch CNN. And as vacancy rates soar, experts warn, hotels tend to slash their security budgets. Says John Harris, a hotel security consultant with Talley Harris Associates in Atlanta, "When financial projections are not being met at hotels or motels, security is often one of the things that gets reduced."

Unfortunately, many travelers succumb to what Harris calls the "Disneyland effect," behaving as if they've left the real world—and real danger—behind. His advice, in good times and bad: "Don't drop your guard or assume that a hotel or motel is going to provide the level of security you think it should."

Harris advises travelers to thoroughly check out a hotel before checking in and to avoid properties right off interstate highways; they are highly visible targets, easily accessible to criminals. Nor should you assume that properties belonging to a national chain are safer, as franchises don't necessarily have to follow corporate security standards.

Harris adds that motels with interior hallways are generally safer than those with doorways opening on to parking lots and that doors should have both dead bolts and peepholes. If a motel is shabby or the staff seem in- attentive, move on.

Security experts differ over the effectiveness of high-tech devices like surveillance cameras in stairwell landings and other locations. "Guests see them and say 'I'll be safe here.' But if the cameras are not monitored 24 hours a day, you've got a problem on your hands," says Jim Abrams, executive vice president of the California Hotel & Lodging Association.

If you do decide to check in, consider taking some additional precautions:

    * Never admit hotel employees to your room without first checking their identity with the front desk.

    * When returning at night, use the main entrance. Don't hesitate to ask a hotel employee to accompany you to your room.

    * Keep the door shut when you're in the room and use all the locks provided.

    * When you arrive, be sure that sliding glass doors, windows, and connecting room doors are locked.

    * If you're a woman traveling alone, request a room on the second floor, as close as possible to the front desk.

* When you return to your room after an absence, check that bathrooms and closets are empty.

Photography by David Zaitz

This article was first published in January 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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