– by Parminder Batra
A phone ringing the middle of the night is never a good thing. And on that particular night I wasn’t even at home but far from it, in a thousand-room hotel in Las Vegas. It was a girl’s voice, incoherent – perhaps aided in some way with drugs or alcohol. And I could only picture her partying, Vegas style, with prank dialing somehow included in a long night of indulgence as she asked me how she could dial an outside line before hanging hung up. I wasn’t pleased. But as I tried to return to sleep, reflecting on the thoughtlessness of drunk dialing, I couldn’t keep a growing and more disturbing thought from my mind. It was an internal call, from inside the hotel, and there was something chilling about the way she sounded, younger than the average reveler so perhaps not partying, I reflected, but desperate, and maybe even in some kind of trouble. I almost wasn’t surprised when the phone rang again and found my reaction, to be very different as she again asked, this time tearfully, for an outside line. ‘Are you okay, do you need help,’ I asked, ‘where are you?’ before the line abruptly went dead. The rest of that night consisted of some frustrating conversations with hotel security and management in successive attempts to try and obtain help for the caller. Couldn’t they trace the call, the room, the occupant who seemed might be in danger? None of my pleas seemed to instigate any action, and then again, wasn’t I perhaps just overacting? In the anonymity of a large Vegas hotel don’t these things just happen all the time? And yet, I found it difficult to forget that night, and that girl’s voice, for the rest of the trip. I still think about it now.
I’ll admit I wasn’t actually thinking about it earlier this year when I was invited by the AHLA to be a panelist at their Safety Summit in Washington D.C. During my session I, along with the other panelists, addressed issues that are now sadly all too familiar in our industry; sexual harassment and issues concerning employee safety. Yet later that day I heard a topic presented by Michelle Guelbart, which is much less known or understood. Michelle leads program development and strategy for ECPAT-USA, the first U.S.-based nonprofit to work on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children. As part of a network of organizations in 95 countries, her organization works toward the elimination of that growing threat, and she expertly and vividly explained the prevalence of human trafficking in our hospitality industry. Traffickers are known to use hotels, airlines, and other travel infrastructure to exploit or transport their victims. They ply their appalling trade from countless hotel and motel rooms, while labor trafficking is also present in both the travel industry’s workforce and in the supply chain of its products. It was an eye-opening presentation for me – human trafficking is not the first thing anyone thinks about checking into a hotel, yet It is estimated that between 18,000 and 20,000 victims are trafficked into the United States every year, many of them children. The International Labor Organization estimates there are over 40 million victims globally – 1 in 4 of which is a child.
I’ll admit that as TraknProtect was becoming established in the hospitality industry, we may have missed a bigger picture, the wider and more substantial implication of what our solution could bring. As we explained the simple elegance of our solution, our emphasis on staff and management training, the fact that our customer service is second to none, we may have been less focused on exactly what kinds of threats we were protecting against. Sexual harassment was, and still is, our prime concern, but those hotel employees who work on the front lines of guest interaction are also the eyes and ears of the hotels’ security and we had now found a new and powerful way of further empowering them. We’ve listened intently to the people who use our product, housekeepers in a thousand different hotels, in-room dining staff, bartenders and waitresses. We heard their stories and we listened. We listened and we thought about our product could be used as defense from not just events in progress but as threat prevention. And that includes human trafficking and the terror it presents to both victims and unsuspecting staff and guests. It’s what drives our product innovation, our customer service and our mission. It’s the heartbeat that fuels our innovation and our dedication and mission to those we serve; to help build a safer hospitality industry and help hoteliers ensure extending inclusive and safe environments for all.
We’re now proudly partnering with ECPAT-USA, and our interactions with hotel employees and management include daily conversations around human trafficking and empowering hospitality workers to use their safety buttons to bring the appropriate help when it occurs in their hotels. And we’re not alone. Just three years ago after US Immigration and Customs arrested 2,000 human traffickers and identified 400 victims and airlines started training staff to spot signs of human traffickers. The Marriott Corporation’s new social impact and sustainability platform, Serve 360, includes initiatives to both detect and report human trafficking, and the daily news with reports of indictments of Robert Kraft and Jeffery Epstein serve to remind us that trafficking in hospitality is a very real and present threat. For me, it vividly brought back that night in Las Vegas, and those who are literally prisoners in the most unlikely places – places that we more typically think of as a place of refuge, rest, a place to work or relax. We’re firmly committed to those hotel employees who can help eradicate human trafficking in the sense that should they see something, say something and use our safety button.
And for those desperate people who call in night, help is on its way.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, email at humantraffickinghotline.org, or text to 233733.