Extended-Stay Property Puts Finger On Security Measures

GRAND PRAIRIE, TX ? What?s the latest wrinkle in hotel security? How about fingerprinting hotel guests. To some hoteliers, fingerprint may seem a bit drastic. But at Budget Suites of America hotels, an extended-stay property, fingerprinting guests is becoming part of the check-in ritual. John Hamilton, manager of the new Grand Prairie Hotel in Texas, a 372-room property, said guests appreciate the procedure. ?People like to feel like they?re coming to a safe place,? he said. ?We?ve got to protect our interests and the interests of our guests. Of course, if people object to it, they?re not required to stay with us.? Vikki Morley, Budget Suites vice president, said the chain will not circulate the prints to law enforcement agencies during a guest?s stay and will gladly return the fingerprint card to the guest upon check out, if requested. Morley, who was an assistant to the warden in a maximum security prison and is the daughter of a policeman, instituted the system. ?We have guests staying with us for two, three and four months,? she said. ?It?s just comforting to know that the fingerprint requirement might keep some of the unsavory elements away and prevent illegal activity. Typically, a criminal doesn?t want his fingerprints taken.? Guests also are less likely to take a television or use a stolen credit card to register at Budget Suites now, Hamilton said. Budget Suites, which launched the program at its hotel in Mesa, AZ., Feb. 20, said it has had little resistance from guests. But not everyone is so enamored of the policy. Don Hansen, president of the Texas Hotel and Motel Association, said he had never heard of such a policy. He called it ?bizarre.? ?If I was checking into a hotel and they asked me for my fingerprints, I would tell them to kiss off and just go somewhere else. We are an industry that prides itself on hospitality, and that is not hospitable.? He added: ?It?s like saying, ?Prove you?re not a bank robber.?? Why not require a psyche exam or a blood test of a DNA sample?? But Morley said the chain anticipates continuing it because ?our guests love it.? It will eventually be phased in at other locations, including the chain?s 900-unit Las Vegas properties. Typical Budget Suites guests are between homes, in town on training assignments or visiting relatives, Morley said. Regular guests at the Grand Prairie hotel include several American Airlines pilots. The fingerprinting process is a minimal inconvenience, Morley said, taking five seconds. Guests roll their index fingers over a greaseless ink pad. A print is taken and then placed on the registration card. Although the hotel chain said it wouldn?t circulate the fingerprints during a guest?s stay, Don Jackson, president of the Forth Worth chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the fingerprint policy ?is just one more example of the invasion of privacy that continues to creep into society.? Other industries have had mixed results on the use of fingerprinting, with banks able to demand fingerprinting for check cashiers, while supermarkets have been unsuccessful in requiring fingerprints on checks. Whether the practice at hotels will continue ?will be determined by the market,? Jackson said. Carl Hamilton, manager of the new Dallas Budget Suites, said only one couple has objected to the policy and walked out. ?When we explain that we?re trying to keep everyone safe, most people don?t seem to mind,? he said. Flexible-Stay Hotel Budget Suites has 11 properties nationwide, and is considered a ?flexible-stay? hotel. The chain, owned by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Holding Corp., offers daily, weekly and monthly rates and plans to have 10,500 suites in Texas by 2005, including San Antonio and Austin. Security of a different type has been turning up in New Jersey, where hotel workers have been enlisted by New Jersey State Troopers to be on the lookout for suspicious guests. As first reported by The New York Times, the program has come under fire amid charges of

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