Risk Intelligence in Hospitality & Human Trafficking

Risk Intelligence in Hospitality & Human Trafficking

The benefits of risk intelligence are often considered with discrete communities in mind, such as an office or educational institution. In reality, effective prevention training and community-sourced reporting platforms can provide benefits far beyond a single organization. One notable example is within the hospitality industry. With the proper training and means of reporting, hospitality workers are in the unique position to fight one of the most horrific global human rights violations we face: human trafficking.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking, commonly described as “a crime that is hidden in plain sight,” is a $150 billion industry worldwide. It is defined as the trade of human beings using force or fraud in order to obtain labor or commercial sexual acts. The International Labour Organization estimates that in 2016 there were more than 40 million victims of human trafficking globally, including 25 million people trapped in forced labor. Twenty-five percent were children and 71 percent were women or girls. In addition, in 2019, an estimated one in six runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) were child sex trafficking victims.

How Does Human Trafficking Affect the Hospitality Industry?

An unfortunate reality for the travel and hospitality industry is that human trafficking often relies on hotels and motels. According to the Department of Homeland Security, traffickers take advantage of the privacy and anonymity of these locations and use them to conduct business under the radar. Human trafficking also occurs at sporting events, theme parks, cruise ships, and many other highly-populated areas frequented by tourists.

Despite this sobering information, there are ways to help. Hotel and motel employees, the eyes and ears of the hospitality industry, are in a unique position to fight human trafficking if they are trained to recognize the signs and have an effective means of reporting suspicious behavior.

What Are the Signs of Human Trafficking in Hospitality?

There are many indicators of sex trafficking that all hotel employees, from the front desk staff to housekeepers, can be trained to observe and report. To help combat trafficking in the hospitality industry, the Department of Homeland Security put together a “Hospitality Toolkit” detailing the signs for hotel staff to look out for when meeting and assisting guests.

Examples include one person reserving multiple rooms, one or more individuals in a party having no control over money or ID, and individuals requesting hotel services, such as food delivery or housekeeping, but denying staff entry into rooms.

Educating staff on the signs of human trafficking is particularly important because common understanding of the business is often incorrect.

“Most victims don’t look like what we see in the news,” said Michelle Guelbart, Director of ECPAT International, formerly End Child Prostitution and Trafficking. “We often see this profile of a young blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who’s kidnapped. And that’s what people think, but that’s not how most victims look.”

Understanding how to identify victims of trafficking, regardless of an individual’s age, race, ethnicity, gender, or other identifying characteristics, is critical to addressing this problem. It is also an important consideration for hotel and motel leadership, as ignorance can prove costly.

What Are the Legal Implications of Trafficking in Hospitality?

Under federal law, individuals or entities can be guilty of human trafficking if they benefit financially from the forced labor or sex trafficking of others. When human traffickers rent rooms in a hotel, the hotel itself benefits financially from the trackers’ exploitation of victims. So, if hotel management and staff ignore clear signs of trafficking, the U.S. government and trafficking survivors can hold the hotel liable.

How Can Risk Intelligence Address Human Trafficking?

Although training employees to recognize the signs of human trafficking is a critical step, it is only useful if this information is reported. This requires an efficient, accessible reporting platform, ideally with anonymous submission capabilities. Providing employees with a mobile risk management tool such as LiveSafe ensures that hotel security teams are aware of all suspicious behavior and can identify patterns. For example, if both a housekeeper and a concierge submit tips about the same guest, security may choose to investigate.

LiveSafe also has a Resources feature that can be customized with organization-specific policies. The Resources feature, which can be accessed at any time with or without internet, can also include documentation reminding employees of the signs of trafficking.

When it comes to safety and security, it’s easy to take an individual approach: what steps can I take to keep myself safe? The advent of risk intelligence platforms such as LiveSafe has allowed individual safety to fit into the piece of a broader puzzle: community safety. Training hospitality workers to recognize the signs of human trafficking and providing them with an easy, efficient way to report their concerns enables them to protect themselves, their employers, and the victims of human trafficking.


Alexandra Brunjes has a B.S. in Neurobiology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with minors in Creative Writing and French. She is a published journalist and experienced health and science writer. Her expertise includes risk intelligence, healthcare and neuroscience, and technology.

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