Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
January 25, 2017

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EU legislation

Hotel fire safety in Europe is hopelessly ill-served by current legal framework, says Euralarm

Euralarm has urged EU policymakers to review legislation governing fire safety in hotels across Europe.

In a press release the organisation says the existing legal framework – the 1986 EU Council Recommendation on fire safety in hotels – is hopelessly ill-equipped to meet the needs of tourists who increasingly “choose to go ‘off the map’ opting for smaller hotels rather than big chains” and the “relatively unregulated development of increasingly popular online homestay networks, such as Airbnb”.

EU legislation is also compared unfavourably to its equivalent in the US. Euralarm, which represents the electronic fire and security across the continent, has warned that Europe’s thriving tourist industry could be undermined if perceptions develop that travellers will not be safe in the continent’s hotels and B&Bs.

Euralarm’s statement about hotel fire safety in the EU

Of all dangers to a tourist’s safety in a European hotel, fire remains the biggest. Currently, the legal basis on the matter is a 1986 EU Council Recommendation on fire safety in hotels. Because EU Recommendations are, by nature, non-binding legal acts, it has resulted in mainly localised and incomplete measures.

Fast forward 30 years later and it is clear that the Recommendation has had limited effect on hotel safety in Europe. A fact acknowledged by hotel federations and consumer associations alike.

The main issue is that local self-regulation resulting from the Recommendation has not guaranteed an even level of safety across the EU. Enforcement varies considerably from country to country, even city to city, including in the same region, and it largely depends on the size of the hotel.

Small hotels are, too often, less scrutinised, more ill-equipped than bigger ones to deal with fires. Local laws frequently link the number of rooms with compliance to the Recommendation.

Global trends

An analysis of global trends in tourism shows that, as our touristic habits evolve, the risk resulting from the current situation increases: more and more travellers choose to go ‘off the map’ opting for smaller hotels rather than big chains. This new type of tourist also tends to visit exactly those countries where safety in hotels is less controlled.

Add to this the relatively unregulated development of increasingly popular online homestay networks, such as Airbnb, and you get a flammable cocktail. The situation seems to be calling for a fast reaction.

Resolution

The most recent attempt to initiate binding legislation on tourism accommodation safety has been an October 2015 Resolution of the European Parliament, calling for a consistent European approach of risks related to fire. Reactions to the Resolution from various Brussels-based influencers showed a novel situation.

All parties involved: consumer associations, hotel federations and Euralarm, the European trade association representing the electronic fire and security industry, now seem to agree that a legally binding EU Directive would be the right solution to address the issue.

Unfortunately, the initiative derailed due to a lack of reliable supporting data: the exact level of risk existing for the flows of tourists travelling to and inside Europe, remains a question mark.

Outside from empirical observations, statistics on safety in tourism are notoriously hard to come by, reputational issues coming in the way of self-reporting. An EU Commission-initiated data collection programme launched 2008 resulted in a blatant failure.

Industry-led survey

The focus now is on surveying led by the industry, rather than the EU. Euralarm, among others, has asserted its readiness to help with new data collection efforts. It also offered to provide support and expertise to the EU Institutions and the CEN-CENELEC European standardisation platform, for the development of the relevant legislation and necessary standards to improve fire safety in hotels.

Progress in European legislation and standardisation is often slow, unless the issue makes it to news headlines. In 2004, after a number of tunnel fires with casualties, the EU Commission has been forced to publish a Directive on tunnel fire safety. Should we wait any further before adopting a Directive on tourism accommodation safety?

Time to act

A failure to act quickly could come with yet another cost for Europe. As tourism is now more globalised than ever, competition becomes fiercer, and parts of the world with more stringent and well-established regulations for safety in tourism accommodation might hold a key advantage.

In the United States for example, a Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act is already in place since 1990. In this view, potential future incidents resulting from poor regulation could hit Europe’s tourism industry hard: its reputation as a safe destination already took a blow from the past year’s terrorist attacks.

Tourism is one of the engines of the European economy, and an important source of jobs. Eurostat reports that one in ten non-financial enterprises in Europe belongs to the tourism industries, and these 2.2 million enterprises employ an estimated 12 million persons. That is more than one in five people employed in the services sector.

Are we willing to take the risk?

 

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Alan Cox
Alan Cox
January 26, 2017 4:12 pm

To anyone who travels in the UK and Europe and has a basic understanding of fire safety there can be very little doubt that Hotel Fire Safety is not at the top of the agenda for many hotels. The last hotel that I stayed a few weeks ago was one that was family owned and having a very large conference extension built and whilst the general level of service and accommodation was very good the level of fire safety was very poor with many fire doors not working and wedged open, fire alarm system showing faults and a lack of… Read more »