Industrial espionage in hotels: Fobbing off prying eyes

Purloining commercial secrets to gain an unfair competitive advantage is an old hazard of most businesses around the world. The task has been made a lot easier and cheaper thanks to hacking which obviates the need for travel and makes it infinitely harder to prosecute offenders who often live in totalitarian states.  But hotels frequently are locales for a more elementary form industrial skulduggery where relative anonymity and the ability of the state to "bug" a room makes for some easy pickings.

A recent issue of the Financial Times' management section lays out some "anti-espionage tips" for travelers. According to the article,  "countries “where the state is pervasive” − and whose governments are
willing to poach knowhow to benefit their economies − pose the greatest
threat to business travellers."

Tips for travelers seeking to evade unwanted attention include varying routines to throw off those looking to "bug" conference rooms and other meeting places; giving out the minimal amount of information on visa applications concerning one's plans and purpose of trip; canceling and rebooking with a different hotel to thwart plans of the bad guys and taking a "travel" laptop or tablet that has information only for the trip; ditto for smartphones. The hotel's WiFi and ethernet cable connection can also be a source of intercetpion of confidential data. Hotel safes in some countries are anything but safe with management in colluding with knowledge thieves.

Admonitions include a warning against viewing racy in-room hotel offerings as it may result in "hosts" using that information to compromise the traveler. Exhibiting a minimal amount of data on slides and videos during presentations at conferences is also a way of safeguarding  proprietary knowledge as many countries, particularly in Asia, videotape presentations without the speaker's permission.

It is also helpful to discuss confidential matters in secure spaces away from hotel public areas, preferably in
open outdoor areas. Screens on tablets and laptops that do not allow for "lateral" viewing are also de-rigueur.

Hotels themselves, even in the West, are occasionally in the news for industrial espionage. A public and bitter dispute between hotel giants Hilton and Starwood concerning the alleged theft of designs for the creation of a boutique hotel chain by the former took months before it was "settled" a couple of years ago with HIlton agreeing to not open a boutique hotel segment of its own for two years.  Perhaps an indicator of the considerable R&D that does into rolling out such a line is the fact that, although a year has  passed since the deadline, there is as yet nothing from HIlton to replace the aborted Denizen brand. 

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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