A hotel industry response to child trafficking

Sex trafficking is a topic that none of us like to talk about, but it is real. We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s time for us to turn our attention to trafficking — one of the world’s most lucrative and heinous crimes — and how we, as hoteliers, can help stamp it out.

Human trafficking is a US$32 billion trade annually — and one of the world’s fastest growing crimes. While many people think it is just a problem for third-world countries or emerging markets, it is right here in our own backyards. Human trafficking has been reported in every state in the nation, from Alabama to Wyoming.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 300,000 children are trafficked for sex annually in the United States alone, and the United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that one million children are sexually exploited each year; the average age of girls forced into the sex trade is between the ages of 12 and 14. It’s shocking, but those of us in the hotel industry can make a difference.

I urge you to sign the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct funded by UNICEF and supported by the UNWTO. “The Code” is a set of suggested principles that we can implement to fight trafficking and exploitation. Rather than turning a blind eye to the existence of trafficking, become a leader in prevention.

Hotels are often targeted as a venue for this heinous crime, which positions us to serve as leaders in preventing the spread of this global phenomenon. At Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, we take this issue very seriously and began actively working to end child trafficking in 1999. We were the first North American hotel company to sign The Code in 2004. We developed an interactive training curriculum for our employees, which we share freely; anyone interested in the program can email Brenda Schultz.

Front desk associates, housekeepers, general managers and all employees can make a difference by noticing the signs of foul play:

  • A guest who checks into the hotel frequently, often without luggage
  • Anyone who seems timid or fearful or shows any signs of abuse; be on the lookout for body language
  • Children and teenagers who dress inappropriately in an effort to look much older than their age; these individuals are also seen with men who do not appear to be father figures
  • Guests who pay in cash
  • Various men coming and going
  • Refusal of housekeeping
  • Loitering or soliciting in the lobby and common areas

The saying “If you see it, say it” applies here — and both hotels and their guests should never be afraid to speak up. It is crucial to report any suspicious activity to protect the children in the communities where we do business, the guests in our hotels and our brand reputation. The discovery of trafficking can destroy reputations and credibility, and hotels are liable for the violation of human rights, which may result in tremendous legal and financial implications.

It is up to us to stop sex trafficking and the victimization of children from occurring within our walls! You may think “that doesn’t happen in my hotel,” but the fact of the matter is that it can happen anywhere, and this issue is collectively “ours” as an industry.

While I hope you will never have to deal with these matters firsthand, we should still look to join the cause in educating our staffs and guests on awareness and accountability. I urge you to commit to making a difference. If not us, as leaders in the hotel industry, then who?