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Staying a Step Ahead of Human Traffickers Targeting Hotel Industry Businesses

By Rachel Lahr 21. February 2023


With Human Trafficking Awareness month recently taking place in January, the hotel industry continues making progress on highlighting and combatting a global issue that ruins lives and jeopardizes business reputations. Organizations such as the AHLA have made it a priority to spread awareness on the issue and provide aid to human trafficking survivors, with major brands such as IHG Hotels & Resorts making substantial donations towards the effort. Others such as Marriott International have launched human trafficking awareness programs for their employees in order to effectively combat the issue.

Yet while such actions are commendable and greatly assist those who suffer the most harm, many hotel businesses still have some work to do before human trafficking can finally be left to the industry’s past. As an industry that hosts as much as 60 percent of human trafficking activities globally, hospitality-based businesses are undoubtedly on the front lines where awareness and effective responses can make all the difference. However, up to 28 percent of industry employees currently still don’t realize that human trafficking is an issue affecting hospitality-based businesses.

To truly make an impact in saving lives while protecting legitimate guests and business reputations, hoteliers therefore need to ensure that their employees are fully aware of the issue, how to recognize the signs and what to do when human trafficking is suspected.


Recognizing the Signs of Human Trafficking

Above anything else, hoteliers and their teams first need to know what visible indicators point to a potential instance of human trafficking. With a multitude of guests/visitors coming and going throughout the course of a day or night, it can certainly be a challenge trying to single out those who have malicious intent. Fortunately, there are common signs that frequently point to the presence of a human trafficking operation:

    • Hesitancy in providing ID during check-in
    • An individual who is unable to speak freely accompanied with someone else speaking on their behalf
    • A person displaying deficient communication skills
    • Use of cash to pay for a room
    • Suspected individuals who seek a room located in an isolated area of the property
    • Inappropriate clothing worn considering age and weather conditions
    • Signs of either physical or emotional harm displayed by the potential victim
    • Potential victim is always accompanied by someone else
    • Fearful and/or submissive behavior displayed by the potential victim
    • A high frequency of room service orders with large amounts of alcohol
    • Various individuals continuing to enter and exit a guestroom where potential trafficking victim is being held



Arming Your Staff With the Right Skills to Take Action When Human Trafficking Takes Place

As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges in fighting human trafficking in hotels is the fact that many employees simply don’t realize that it is even an issue. This likely demonstrates a lack of education and training. For example, having the above list of potential human trafficking signs does little good if it is buried somewhere in a back office. Property managers should instead make sure to post flyers listing the signs in employee areas where they are clearly visible, including breakrooms, stockroom areas and employee-only bathrooms to name a some examples.

Hoteliers should also host regularly-held staff meetings in order to keep the issue fresh in the minds of their employees as well as to remind them how to spot human trafficking and what to do when signs point to it taking place. For hotel businesses, this is especially important as no one wants to make the mistake of erroneously labeling someone as a human trafficker which can anger a legitimate guest and damage reputations. Worse still, taking the wrong course of action when human trafficking is correctly identified can result in the perpetrators escaping or can result in the victim and others being exposed to greater harm.

In addition to posting flyers and educating staff on how to spot human trafficking, the same efforts should therefore also focus on the right type of action to take. Fortunately, there are several best practices relied on by industry businesses that have proven effective in dealing with human traffickers while protecting innocent bystanders from experiencing any sort of harm. These include:

    • Observing as many details as possible, such as clothing, names, physical descriptions, the number of individuals, location and time of day
    • Alerting employees to never directly confront a suspected trafficker or victim
    • Implementing a procedure where staff know to alert either a property manager, security personnel or law enforcement
    • If unable to contact the authorities, staff and managers should be made aware that they can also contact A21, a non-government organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking, sex exploitation and forced labor.
    • Hotel teams can also contact ECPAT, a global network that fights to bring an end to child sexual exploitation.


To ensure sufficient awareness and education among staff, hoteliers can further look to human trafficking training courses offered by several organizations. For example, the AHLA provides a free No Room for Trafficking training program that is available in 17 languages. ECPAT likewise offers its own free training courses designed for both hotel managers and associates.

Regular training and education is without doubt the most effective method that prevents instances of human trafficking from slipping through the cracks unnoticed. For example, one study revealed that a hotel only identified a single trafficking event prior to its employees receiving any sort of training. Once training had taken place, that same hotel saw human trafficking reports jump to 17 over the next seven months.


Leveraging Technology to Stay a Step Ahead of Human Traffickers

In the fight against human trafficking, hoteliers need to make sure that their team members have all the advantages. Training and awareness are indeed key, but also utilizing various tools and technologies can make a world of difference in ensuring a correct and swift response. One obvious example is the use of surveillance cameras, particularly for isolated or less frequented hotel areas, providing staff with eyes and ears even when not able to be physically present.

Another crucial tool that many properties already possess is their access management system. Typically responsible for issuing keys to guests and granting room access, more advanced solutions also come equipped with the ability to alert staff to suspicious behavior. This can include alerting staff to a guestroom door that is opened and closed an unusual number of times. It can also alert staff to a door that has been left in a propped-open position. Vital to preventing human trafficking-related activities is controlling who has access to specific areas, which is what access management systems are specifically designed to do. Not just for guestrooms but also for hotel elevators, back entrances and more, preventing unauthorized individuals from freely moving about and blending in with legitimate guests can do much to stop a human trafficking operation in its tracks.

Another technology that can prove useful are staff safety solutions. While these devices are increasingly being mandated in order to provide employees with assistance in the event of a threat to their personal safety, they can also be leveraged as a discreet means of issuing an alert for potential trafficking activity. The moment an employee observes anything suspicious, one push of a personally equipped alert device will notify the appropriate personnel with exact real-time location details.

The ability to respond quickly can importantly minimize any opportunity for perpetrators to get away. For the victim, it can mean life or death and a chance to finally bring those who participated in their suffering to justice. With the stakes being so high, hoteliers should always be on the lookout for any and all resources that make the fight against human trafficking as one-sided and in their favor as possible.


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By: Rachel Lahr

Rachel Lahr serves as VP & Head of Key Accounts for Hospitality at ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions. Holding more than 20 years of commercial experience, Rachel is tasked with forging and strengthening relationships with customers from hospitality markets around the world. With her expertise in building high performance teams and overseeing commercial negotiations, Rachel also plays a key role in aligning company solutions and go-to-market strategies with customer needs in order to maintain sustainable organizational growth. Based in Richardson, Texas, Rachel holds a Master and Bachelor of business administration from Western Michigan University.

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