Hoteliers need to join fight against human trafficking
Hoteliers need to join fight against human trafficking
13 APRIL 2017 7:47 AM

For hotel owners and operators, the burden of responsibility is greater to help curb these particularly heinous crimes on-property; and many are taking it seriously. 

Hotels are unique in the business world in that they are quasi-public buildings. While all responsible hotel operators employ a range of mechanical, electronic and personal security measures and protocols to prevent unauthorized people from gaining access, it’s still relatively easy for criminals to use hotels for their illegal purposes.

As a result, hotel operators are facing increased scrutiny as police forces wage war against particularly heinous crimes such as prostitution, drug manufacturing and sales and, worst of all, human trafficking—which often are related. The federal government and lawmakers in a number of states are seeking legislative and judicial solutions to keep sex traffickers, drug dealers and other criminals from using hotels as their bases of operation.

In a high-profile case in Pennsylvania, a victim is suing the operator of a motel near Philadelphia who allegedly condoned and aided a sex trafficking ring at the property. Pennsylvania passed legislation in 2014 sanctioning sex abuse victims to bring civil action against hotels and motels where the crimes were committed.

In Boston, police are taking a proactive approach to the problem by working with hotel operators in the city to educate them on the problem and to provide insights on how to recognize guests who might be booking rooms for illegal purposes, including prostitution and drug sales. 

And the Connecticut state legislature is considering a bill that would place a burden on hotels and motels by requiring front-desk personnel to obtain identification from guests renting rooms. The law would also ban hotels from renting rooms by the hour and requires hotels to post warning signs about trafficking, along with the phone number of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline.

In New York, victim advocates are pushing legislation that would mandate training of all hotel staffs and posting of informative signs in lobbies. Similar legislation is under consideration in Texas.

Another issue is technology. Many chains are deploying mobile check-in and keyless entry systems that enable guests to occupy rooms with little or no interaction with hotel personnel. Another phenomenon potentially contributing to the problem is the rise of ultra-short-term hotel rental sites that book rooms by minutes, hours and quarter days, which further create the possibility of their use by criminals.

These regulations and threats of prosecution probably seem onerous to the vast majority of hotel and motel owners and operators who already employ measures to stop criminals from using their properties to commit crimes. However, as an old saying goes, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil it for everyone else.

Hotel owners and operators need to consider a number of proactive steps to do their part to stop the spread of these crimes and to protect their guests and investments.

It’s imperative to cooperate with police and other local authorities as they pursue policies to curtail drug and trafficking criminals who might use hotels as their base of operations. Of course, it’s also important to protect the privacy of guests and to ensure their safety and security. When in doubt, consult your attorney to determine when and how it is legal and proper to work with police.

Maintaining solid relations with your local police department should be an ongoing task for GMs and owners. Getting to know government and law enforcement officials in your location pays a variety of dividends.

Some local departments and federal agencies such as the FBI will conduct crime-awareness workshops and provide materials to your employees. This is an extension of the “see something, say something” ethos all hotel employees should have ingrained in them in an age when the threat of terrorism is on all of our minds. 

GMs should also consult with their property-level and corporate engineering teams and, if necessary, a security consultant to make sure security technology and protocols are up-to-date and in working order.

Crimes like human trafficking are a plague on society, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to curb these problems. The burden of responsibility is much greater for owners and operators of hotels, and they need to take it seriously.

Email Ed Watkins or find him on Twitter.

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