As the threat of hidden cameras in hotel guestrooms grows, hoteliers should consider whether they should scan for them to protect their guests’ privacy.
The hotel and restaurant industries have more than 1 million open positions, and hoteliers should consider opening up one more job type: someone who sweeps hotel rooms for hidden cameras.
Four people were arrested in South Korea for secretly filming approximately 1,600 guests at various hotels by hiding cameras in guestrooms. The Washington Post reports that those responsible made $6,000 through 4,000 subscriptions, and 97 of those subscribers paid extra for additional features, such as video replay. They hid cameras inside TV boxes, wall outlets and hair dryer stands.
This kind of voyeurism is a growing problem in South Korea, but this type of creepiness isn’t confined within the country’s borders. There are creepy people everywhere, and they’re willing to pay to be creepy. The risk of hidden cameras is well-known enough for USA Today to publish a story advising how to detect them in guestrooms and vacation rentals. As technology advances, hiding cameras is going to become easier, potentially making the problem more widespread.
There are two paths for hoteliers to take to protect their guests from hidden cameras. One would be to hire specialists to scan and search rooms, which would likely be pretty expensive and potentially disruptive. Another approach would be to train someone on staff or a new hire to accompany housekeeping crews as they turnover rooms between guest stays, to scan for cameras’ radio frequencies and physically check common spots. The USA Today article reported that devices that scan for radio frequencies are commercially available—many at a cost of less than $100.
This might not be necessary at every hotel, but hoteliers should consider whether the profiles of their guest would make them more enticing to spies. Keep in mind, however, that considering about 1,600 people were spied on in South Korea, many likely were just regular people and not celebrities, politicians or other high rollers.
I reached out to Stephen Barth, a professor of hospitality law at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston and founder of HospitalityLawyer.com, to ask about legal liabilities that might face hoteliers if they act in any way that would make them seem responsible for catching hidden cameras. Even if hoteliers employ some means of detecting hidden cameras, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’d find every one.
Historically, security solutions start on a micro perspective, such as electronic locks, CCTV, viewfinders/peepholes, security bars on doors and CRP training, Barth said in an email. Overtime, these have become common practices, he said.
“The reason they become common is because knowing of a threat and doing nothing is much worse from a potential liability perspective,” he said.
Another reason hoteliers might be reluctant is they don’t want to gain a reputation for having a hidden camera problem at their hotel.
I get that, but consider it from a pest control perspective. Every hotel at some time or another has issues with some kind of pest, and everyone knows this happens, but they only freak out about it when they find the pest in their room or food. Hoteliers employ pest control to prevent these issues or stop them before they get worse, and they do so in a discrete manner. In other words, hoteliers can have someone checking for cameras in guestrooms between guest stays without having to advertise that they do this.
Word might get out anyway that a hotel does this, but if more hoteliers adopt this approach to guest privacy, it could become common practice and potentially even a service guests expect.
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