By Rachel Humphrey
It is difficult for many to grasp the prevalence and scale of human trafficking, in large part because people do not want to consider that such a heinous crime could happen in their own community. Unfortunately, trafficking touches every state, city, and town regardless of how safe a certain area is believed to be.
In many cases, traffickers take advantage of hotels’ private and transient atmosphere to hide and exploit their victims. For any hotelier, the safety of hotel guests and staff is always the top priority, yet trafficking presents more than a threat to just their business. The victimization of society’s most vulnerable people makes trafficking prevention a significant moral and ethical issue.
AAHOA members recognize that they must take an active role in combating human trafficking to keep their communities and properties safe. The best way to do so is by strengthening the first line of defense. Hotel staff--whether they are front desk clerks, bellhops, or housekeepers--are in the unique position to save lives if they are equipped with the right resources.
To make this possible, AAHOA partnered with two leaders in anti-trafficking education and prevention, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) and Polaris, to provide members and their employees with free access to comprehensive human trafficking awareness training.
Hotel owners and staff who complete the training learn the skills they need to not only identify human trafficking but also how to respond to potential situations in a way that keeps victims, hotel guests, and employees safe. AAHOA also partnered with the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign to provide hoteliers with educational resources to share with their employees and signage to post in their hotels.
While thousands of hoteliers and their employees are taking the online training, we can look to our efforts in Texas to see our members’ commitment to tackling this problem head on. Working with BEST and AAHOA Lifetime Member Trusha Patel, we developed a pilot program in Texas to increase the number of in-person trainings and expand our outreach efforts to make the training available to non-members and hospitality employees.
After learning about the extent of human trafficking, Trusha became personally invested in combating traffickers in her home state. Our outreach efforts started with Trusha leading training for the Austin Hotel and Lodging Association Board of Directors and later the staff for the Hilton Austin Airport. From there her work expanded to hotels throughout Texas as municipal lodging associations bought into the training and promoted it amongst their membership. These hospitality workers can now identify human traffickers who seek to use their hotel for illicit acts and respond to help potential trafficking victims.
We are proud that hoteliers all over America continue to take the initiative to train themselves and their employees. It is our hope that we can expand this pilot program to other states. That effort will require committed volunteers, but given the generosity and compassion of AAHOA members, we are confident that we will be able to continue promoting education and awareness at a more personal level. Grassroots engagement is the best way to get people involved and active in this fight. AAHOA is committed to working with state and municipal lodging associations to help them educate more hoteliers and employees.
Additionally, earlier this year, we joined the Georgia Statewide Human Trafficking Taskforce to combat criminal trafficking in the state. It is partnerships such as this where AAHOA can use our understanding of, and expertise in, the hospitality industry to inform policy creation as state and local officials look to end trafficking in our communities.
AAHOA’s educational tools are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the AAHOA HOTEL OWNERS ACADEMY™ on our website. We encourage all hoteliers who have yet to take AAHOA’s groundbreaking and comprehensive Human Trafficking Awareness Training to do so. You can save lives, protect your guests, your employees, your property, and your reputation. What we find most striking is that, after hoteliers complete the training, many will tell us that they had no idea that human trafficking was so pervasive, and they were glad they now possessed the knowledge to make a difference.
We are making great strides, but, as ever, there is more work that must be done. We urge all hoteliers to be the change agent in their city, state, or region. Educate yourself, train your staff, and encourage other hoteliers to do the same. All AAHOA members have free invaluable training resources at their fingertips and now is the time to utilize them. Working together, our industry can be a strong defense against human trafficking. The more hotel owners and staff who are equipped with the skills and knowledge to combat trafficking, the safer hotel properties and communities will be for everyone.
Rachel Humphrey is the Interim President and CEO of AAHOA. She joined AAHOA in 2015 as vp, managing attorney for franchise relations after more than 20 years as a trial lawyer, representing franchisees and other small businesses.