Checking In with No Way out: How Hotels Can Prevent Human Trafficking

By John Welty | March 23, 2020

Anytime there’s a huge event like the Super Bowl where a large number of people convene from different locations, often to party, illegal activities such as human and sex trafficking tend to heat up, and thus, hit the national radar. Before this year’s game, the Miami Herald highlighted how traffickers already had begun laying traps and setups to ensnare guests and visitors into trafficking rings. While it is important to increase vigilance during events such as these, it’s also crucial to recognize this is a year-round concern. Law enforcement in Miami proactively warned hotels and ride share drivers to prepare for these dangers in advance of the Super Bowl, but a heightened level of awareness to this crime is really needed at all times, particularly for the hospitality industry.

A Growing Problem

Not surprisingly, hotels tend to play a significant role in trafficking cases, as they offer potential traffickers a private location to shelter victims before transporting them. Data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) indicates that between December 2007 and Dec. 31, 2017, there were 3,596 instances of human trafficking involving a hotel or motel. Further, hotels and motels were the third most common venue for sex trafficking in 2019 and have been routinely in the top three since 2013.

Recent news stories help to highlight the severity of the problem of human trafficking for the hotel industry. According to USA Today, in late 2019, several lawyers approached a federal panel to consolidate 21 pending lawsuits alleging hotel chains across the country had ignored warning signs of human trafficking at their establishments. One of these cases, in Columbus, Ohio, involved a woman who sued three separate hotel chains claiming that employees overlooked clear evidence of trafficking. This evidence she cited included signs hotel operators should train staff to be on the lookout for, including trash cans filled with condoms, cash payments for rooms and the guests refusing housekeeping services.

In a second example, 12 hotel chains in Detroit were named in a lawsuit for ignoring signs of human trafficking. One of the victims was a 17-year-old, who was kidnapped at school and taken to a hotel, where she says she was held and abused. The lawsuit states that there were clear warning signs, such as her inability to make eye-contact with staff, her lack of identification or luggage, violent altercations that went on in the hallways involving her, and more. Her representation stated, “Despite all of those opportunities to see what was happening, they just kept accepting the money for the rooms,” indicating negligence on the part of the hotel and its staff.

Making a Difference

As is clear in these examples, hotels can play a significant role in human trafficking cases and stand to suffer heavy damages if found guilty. Insurance cannot protect a hotel if there is clear evidence that hotel staff was aware of the incidents and failed to act. Insurers of the hospitality industry must make it a priority to educate their clients on the importance of staying attentive and identifying warning signs.

First, agents and brokers can consider providing information to their clients regarding the potential warning signs. The Department of Homeland Security shared some health signs to look for, including:

  • Malnourishment, poor hygiene or injuries,
  • The guest in question has no money or identification or is dressing inappropriately for their age,
  • Owner of the room only pays in cash and frequently brings in new guests.
  • Guests refuse to allow hotel staff to enter the room but request housekeeping services.

To identify these issues, hoteliers need to incorporate strict training and education regiments. While mandatory training programs already exist by law, agents and brokers can encourage their policyholders in this space to do more to minimize the chance of a trafficking incident, including:

  1. Take a stand. Taking part in campaigns such as the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s No Room for Trafficking can help spread awareness that these crimes will not be tolerated. To that end, establishing a clear, anti-trafficking policy can further this message.
  2. Create a detailed Abusive Act and Human Trafficking policy. A written policy detailing training, detection, response, reporting and documentation of any abusive acts or trafficking will establish clear protocol and rules to follow.
  3. Implement regular training sessions. These training sessions will not only keep staff aware of the latest prevention practices but will emphasize the importance of staying prepared so they can intervene when necessary.
  4. Drop the Do Not Disturb. In response to safety threats, Disney hotels have removed Do Not Disturb signs, replacing them with room occupied signs. This provides Disney staff with the right to enter rooms for maintenance, repairs, or to check on guest and property safety, according to the New York Times. This trend has caught on at hotels across the country recently.

These are just a few of the many steps agents and brokers can recommend to policyholders in the space. Human trafficking is still a far too widespread issue in the hospitality industry. Hotels with untrained, unprepared staff offer criminals a safe haven to execute their plans. To help put a stop to this, agents and brokers can make their hospitality clients aware of the steps necessary to identify and act on any and all warning signs and encourage training and education for employees.

About John Welty

Welty is the president for SUITELIFE Underwriting Managers, a series of RSG Underwriting Managers LLC, an all-lines insurance and risk program for premier hotels, resorts, luxury boutiques, gated communities and hotel management companies.

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