The hospitality industry is built on customer service. Hoteliers strive to build businesses and brands that make guests feel welcomed, comfortable, and secure. And, as much as the industry focuses on the individual customer service experience, hoteliers across the country are taking proactive measures to focus on exceptional public service that not only helps some of the most vulnerable people in their communities, but also improves the safety and security of their properties. They are welcoming a new role in shining a light on the dark world of human trafficking.
While the concept of human trafficking may seem straightforward, spotting it in the real world is easier said than done. Broadly speaking, human trafficking fits into one of two categories—labor trafficking and sex trafficking. But apart from knowing that traffickers force victims into modern-day slavery, being able to identify the signs and know when there is a problem requires education, training, and courage.
For many outside the hospitality industry, the associations between hotels and prostitution conjure up imagery straight from Hollywood films—seedy hotels, rooms by the hour, indifferent clerks lazing behind bulletproof glass, and derelicts loitering in dimly lit hallways. But these images mask an even grimmer reality that tens of thousands of human trafficking victims face every day, often in plain sight.
Whether it’s a five-star hotel or a small motel just off the interstate, the anonymity and privacy offered by hotels and the frequent turnover of their clientele make them attractive to traffickers who favor changing location frequently to evade law enforcement. Through coercion, drug addiction, manipulation, and a multitude of other tactics, sex traffickers control their victims—usually girls and women—and turn hospitable and reputable hotels into virtual prisons.
No respectable hotelier wants these purveyors of human suffering as guests nor do they want to profit by providing a location for their illicit and immoral enterprise. But if they can’t see the signs, they run the risk of allowing this detestable practice to carry on under their roof.
The lodging industry is at the forefront of combating this scourge on our society with national programs and brand initiatives. That’s why AAHOA is proud to partner with the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, the Polaris Project, and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) to provide members and their employees with the tools and training to identify and prevent human trafficking. The front desk can be a front line in this critical fight.
Forging these strategic partnerships enables and encourages hoteliers to provide employee trainings that illustrate signs of sex trafficking, demonstrate how perpetrators operate in hotels, and suggest proactive steps to take if the signs are present. With proper education, owners and employees will have a greater confidence in performing the due diligence that may play a key role in ending a trafficking victim’s nightmare as well as limiting the potential legal exposure of the hotel owner, managers, and brand.
Hoteliers are uniquely positioned to prevent human trafficking, and through education and awareness, we can make a significant difference in this fight. The safety of our guests, our businesses, and our industry depends on it.
About the Author
Chip Rogers is the CEO of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA).