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Hoteliers, Human Trafficking is a Hospitality Problem, and It’s Up to Us to Address It


In 2021, freedom is a fundamental human right -- an aspect of our lives that is so firmly ingrained in our understanding of North American culture that we quite often don’t have to give it a second thought. Personal freedom is assumed to be a guarantee… and yet, it isn’t. The somber but unavoidable reality is this: human trafficking is a global problem that has taken on many forms and destroyed countless lives over the years. It shows no sign of slowing down without meaningful intervention.


Human trafficking schemes, defined as the “trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others,” frequently infringe upon the fundamental rights and wellbeing of unsuspecting victims and, unfortunately, hotels are often a breeding ground for these nefarious activities. Hoteliers, I hate to break to you, but in this regard, human trafficking is not simply a global problem – it is a hospitality problem, and it’s time we did something about it.


A Historical Problem Exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic


Statistics reveal that 25 million people across the globe are denied their fundamental right to freedom, with 8,375 open victim cases reported (5,090 of which were new) in 2019 alone. Research also reveals that 30% of the global human trafficking victims are children, and 49% are women. Moreover, in 2019, 62% of victims in the US were identified as sex trafficking victims, and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grantees reported that 68% of clients served were victims of labor trafficking. Human trafficking is also estimated to create $150 billion a year in profits.


Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated rates of human trafficking, while also making the social services dedicated to serving and protecting victims more inaccessible than ever before. According to recent studies, approximately 1 in 5 service providers who responded to a survey indicated that they could no longer offer their services at the pandemic’s beginning (April-May 2020). Moreover, service providers have had to significantly adjust their operations during the pandemic, including reducing hours and moving services online. These changes can be a barrier to victims who need in-person services or don’t have consistent access to the Internet.


Hospitality Leaders, Change Starts With Us


For hoteliers, this continued surge of human trafficking crime should be a foremost consideration, now more than ever. Hotels are, after all, a prominent environment for domestic sex trafficking due to the private and discreet setting provided by hotel rooms paid for in cash. In many cases, this makes hotels the ideal location for traffickers to avoid detection while ushering multiple people in and out of a given room. Furthermore, traffickers rely on the fact that most hospitality staff may not be trained to identify signs of human trafficking, or know what to do if suspicions arise.


With this in mind, hoteliers are encouraged to take an honest look at their existing plan, and modify the plan where required. What tools and processes are in place to prevent human trafficking and, in the event of an incident, protect victims? What is the safety culture offered by your hotel, and does it proactively advocate for the safety and wellbeing of everyone on-property, including employees, guests, and human trafficking victims?


Unfortunately, many hotels still neglect safety training, especially training that is specific to human trafficking prevention and reporting. To this effect, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the proper response to a suspected human trafficking incident, which may result in complications including failed reporting or misidentification of human trafficking, which places hotels and potential victims in a compromised position. Pair lack of training with a lack of safety infrastructure, and hoteliers have a serious problem on their hands.


Now, more than ever, hospitality leaders are responsible for training their employees to identify and report human trafficking. A good place to start is leveraging hotel safety technology, including panic buttons to call for help discreetly and ease friction in reporting.


With the right safety technology partner, education and resources, hoteliers can finally become true safety advocates while creating a safety ecosystem that works to save lives and eradicate human trafficking.


January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month


National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on January 11 raises awareness of the persistent issue of human trafficking. Though the entire month of January has already been recognized as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, this day is specifically dedicated to awareness and prevention of the illegal practice. This holiday is also separate from the World Day Against Trafficking Persons, as established by the United Nations. Since the Senate established this day of observance in 2007, it has drawn massive public support from individual donations to government-organized events. The horrific injustice of human trafficking can affect people of any race and background, and on this day we are all called to fight human trafficking wherever it exists.