Hotel room security: Keeping yourself and your money safe

by Beth Graham

This is a personal story about hotel room security. A few months ago, I was invited to a new resort in the Caribbean to write about it. My husband tagged along (every chance he gets!).

We arrived at the resort and I was struck by the beauty. And the newness. And the emptiness. I believe there were fewer than 100 guests at a resort that has almost 500 guest rooms. Granted, it was in the middle of the pandemic and travel outside the U.S. was still not easy or comfortable for most. But I’m a wanderlust warrior so we went. 

I was overjoyed to have the place to ourselves. And it was truly one of the most beautiful resorts I’ve seen, from the layout to the decor to the general vibe. We had a beautiful oceanview room and being the germaphobe I am, it was nice to have everything so fresh and clean. And brand spanking new. I mean how many thonged butt cheeks sit on those rubbery couches in these resorts? Ew!

We quickly dropped our belongings in our room and decided to take advantage of our concierge level bar and grab a quick drink before dinner, not even thinking about our hotel room security.

Let me start by saying that my husband is former law enforcement – he even shared some safe travel tips here for my readers. So I never thought twice about our hotel room security.

We arrived back to our room about an hour later and began getting ready for dinner. My husband began unpacking and claimed that he could not find his money clip (with a $100 bill) in his backpack. I immediately started in about how disorganized he is, how it’s a terrible backpack because it has too many compartments… you get my drift. He dumped everything out on the bed and we combed through it. I told him he must have put it somewhere else (again, pointing out his disorganization). Yeah – even those afternoon cocktails couldn’t take the edge off at this point. We spent more than an hour combing through his belongings. I was still convinced that it would “show up.”  I was never concerned about hotel room security.

So yeah, having our cash missing was a bit disconcerting but more important, it was the money clip that was missing. My husband purchased it on his first day at the FBI Academy 33 years ago. So it had sentimental value. Honestly, we always use the hotel safe but we let our guard down and really needed to treat ourselves to a welcome drink. We knew we’d be gone a short time.

Here’s where it got sticky. I was being hosted by the resort, meaning they were comping my visit and my flight. So I really didn’t want to make waves and tell the manager at this point and risk my, nor my magazine’s, reputation. I didn’t want to be that person. And I was still convinced that the money would show up. Dropped into a random toiletry kit. Stuck in the seam of a pant’s pocket. Perhaps under the bed. Even though we had torn the room apart. Three times.

After sleeping on it, I woke up pissed off. The money – and more importantly, the money clip – had not shown up. My honeymoon with this new resort was over so we decided to talk to the manager. I expected to be disregarded as we had already discovered a slight communication barrier and an overly-lax island mentality to customer service. But the manager arrived to our room with the security team. They swept the room and interviewed us and took copious notes. They said they would conduct an investigation and let us know something within 24 hours. Again, I did not expect to hear from them.

But the next morning, they showed up at our door. They were very transparent and told us that they discovered a keycard had been used to access our room and that the individual assigned to that keycard had not shown up for work that morning. In fact, the individual never showed up for work again. My investigator husband tried to come up with ways to track down this person and get his keepsake back, but there was not much we could do. We came to learn that many of the island’s inhabitants, and thus some of the employees, are refugees and $100 is more than a month’s income for them. There’s more to that story but I won’t pass judgment.

I spent the day apologizing to my husband, first for not believing him initially when he said it disappeared, and two, for the loss of his treasured money clip. We tucked our tail between our legs and tried to enjoy the last two days of our trip, but the black cloud never dissipated. 

The story doesn’t end there. The resort was very apologetic and offered us two free upgraded nights to come back and give them another try. We did. And our second experience was almost worst than the first. But that’s another post for another time. Lesson learned. Do your homework on hotel room security before your trip.

So I guess if there’s any advice or tips I can share to ensure this doesn’t happen to you, here’s what I’d say:

  1. Use the room safe. Again, we always do but there were cocktails calling our name. But honestly, I don’t even trust those safes. How easy is it to reset the code or open a safe for a guest who forgot their code?
  2. Opt out of room visits. Yes, getting your room cleaned daily is important but I’m going to opt out for turn down service and any other unnecessary visits. And most of all, avoid using the “Make up room now” sign. It just alerts people that the room is vacant.
  3. Before you leave, tidy the room and put away any items of value, especially those that won’t fit in the safe like a laptop or iPad. Even things like charging cords can be an attractive target. I often lock these things in my suitcase.
  4. Take a small lockbox for jewelry. Again, I’m terrible about leaving jewelry on my nightstand (not that I travel with anything valuable – heck, I don’t really own much that valuable). You can buy small lockboxes online to hold your jewelry and stash it in a toiletry kit or your locked suitcase.
  5. Don’t be stupid (like we were). Trust no one. Welcome cocktails are important, but take your time to lock up your stuff first!

I consciously decided not to publish the name or location of the resort. They did their best to rectify the situation and they were honest with us about their findings. It did spark some interesting conversations among me and my husband about the need for databases on employees, especially those with more transient populations. The individual who stole our belongings probably got a job at the resort next door the next day.

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