How to Spot Human Trafficking in Hotels

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human trafficking, meeting planner, New York City
Even 4- and 5-star hotels can unknowingly harbor traffickers.

Michelle Guelbart, private sector project coordinator for ECPAT-USA, joined Prevue Editor Barbara Scofidio twice during last week’s IMEX show in Las Vegas to educate attendees about human trafficking and how to spot victims. A new ECPAT video, “Does Your Hotel Know?” was featured in their sessions.

Every hotel—including the 4- and 5-star properties used by meeting planners—is a potential site for sex trafficking, which affects nearly 100,000 children each year. Former Subway pitch man Jared Fogle was staying at The Plaza Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton when he was arrested in New York City (he plead guilty to child pornography charges and engaging in sexual contact with a minor).

Signs to look for can be subtle, but when identified in combination, could point to human trafficking. For example, a front desk clerk might think nothing of a young female guest whose partner is holding her identification and wallet for her, but when the room she checks into then has a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the door all week, there’s reason for suspicion. Several hotel companies, including Carlson-Rezidor, Accor, Wyndham and Hilton Worldwide, are leading the fight against trafficking by signing “The Code” (the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct), training their employees, and putting policies and programs in place to address this issue.

Among the signs to look for in hotels:

  • A traveler pays in cash one day at a time
  • A guest escorts various men into their room
  • An older male or female stays around the room until the visitors leave, watching the door
  • The victim will rarely be left alone
  • The victim will also have little control of money and identification.

Guelbart and Scofidio will be part of an upcoming webinar, “Your Role in Spotting and Combatting Human Trafficking,” sponsored by SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network) and Prevue, on November 3 at 2 p.m. EST. Other panelists include Lesley Young Cutler, owner, Envision Meetings & Incentives, and Jennifer Keltner, travel and meeting manager for a large automotive company. Half of all proceeds will be donated to ECPAT-USA.

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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.