What the London high-rise fire disaster teaches us

We all were shocked when we saw the pictures of the fire in Grenfell Tower, the London high-rise, and we were even more shocked when the number of casualties was published.

What can we learn from this for dealing with hotel properties? Buildings from the 1960s and ’70s, in many cases, do not only not comply with today’s fire and life safety standards. Many of them were also built in very poor quality.

Grenfell Tower in London (Photo: Getty Images)
Grenfell Tower in London (Photo: Getty Images)

Very obvious deficiencies are the lack of emergency staircases and the construction of fire sections, including fire doors. From my experience carrying out technical due diligence and inspections, I know that there is a big chance to find shafts without fire blockage, shafts not properly separated from guestrooms or pipework going through walls without fire blockage installations. I recently found out in a hotel that the walls between guestrooms and corridors were not built completely up to the ceiling. The wall to the neighboring guest room was also not built up to the ceiling. The wardrobes on both sides covered the gap.

There exist many hotels – branded or unbranded – that have these issues. While my experience is limited to Europe and some properties in the U.S., I think this is a worldwide problem. They are operated with old licenses and the authorities only get active when a major refurbishment is planned. Therefore it is the responsibility of owners, brands and operators.

When such hotels are inspected, issues such as incomplete walls are not identified because a detailed inspection would cause damage by opening suspended ceilings or walls. This not done to avoid costs and disruption of the operation. These deficiencies are only detected once a hard refurbishment is done. The costs for repairing these deficiencies can be an economic killer to the hotel.

I am definitely not saying that all hotels in buildings from the ’60s or ’70s are unsafe. As there is a risk of bad building quality or noncompliance with today´s standards, they have to be inspected very closely when a purchase is considered. Owners, brands and operators should also be aware of the risks related to these buildings and inspect and act accordingly. The tragic events in London should not only trigger the inspection of high-rise apartment buildings, but also of hotels.