Fear Factor

Although the government has downgraded the terror alert level from code orange to code yellow, it's also warned the public of risks at so-called "soft targets," such as hotels, cruise ships, and nightclubs -- all common meeting venues. But how real is the threat?

"Unfortunately soft targets are a very real terrorist opportunity," says Richard Werth, president, CPP, Event and Meeting Security Services. "Most government facilities have tightened security so they are not as attractive as targets. This has made terrorists explore other options where they can make an impact on western-style governments and people."

The heightened alert has led to increased government scrutiny in destinations that have been mentioned as targets in terrorist chatter being monitored by the U.S. government. In late December, Las Vegas hotel operators were being required by the FBI to turn over all guest names and personal information.

In addition, many hoteliers are beefing up security at high-risk properties. "The hospitality community is all over this issue. We have a number of major hotel chains as clients that do assessments of every property in their system to determine the level of security required," says Bruce McIndoe, CEO of the Washington D.C.-based iJET Travel Risk Management. "Hotels that have fallen into the high-risk category have invested in security measures such as checkpoints that inspect vehicles before they get close to the hotel and closing off maintenance access at the rear of the buildings. The cost of this security is significant and a lot of hotels are investing heavily and frustratingly because we are talking about preventing an incident that has about a one-in-10-million chance of occurring."

These highly publicized warnings and actions create a thorny problem for meeting planners trying to address attendee concerns. Werth and McIndoe both suggest putting the risk probability in perspective. "Planners have to keep in mind that the probability of a group being impacted directly by a terrorist event is really astronomical," says McIndoe. "The probability is greater that you will be struck by lightning than be involved in a terrorist attack. Planners have to communicate that to their attendees."