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  • Writer's pictureTc Li

Human Trafficking: What Can the Hospitality Industry Do to Combat Human Trafficking?

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

The United Nations (UN) claims that human trafficking is a global criminal business that impacts every country in the world, and is estimated to have a global worth of $32bn. Human trafficking is also increasingly viewed as a ‘high-profit low-risk’ crime, which is the reason why some trafficking groups are switching their cargo from drugs to humans.

More victims of trafficking in persons were reported to the United Nations in 2016 than at any time over the previous thirteen years. At the same time, the average number of detected victims per country has also increased over the last few years. As such, in 2016, about 40% more victims were detected compared to 2011.

How Does Human Trafficking Affect the Hospitality Industry?

Hotels and motels can be attractive places for any form of trafficking. However, human trafficking can also occur at sporting events, theme parks, on cruise ships, and in many other areas within the tourism industry.

Currently, scientists are working with artificial intelligence in order to identify centres of human trafficking using an app with more than a million pictures from hotel rooms. The dataset is called Hotels-50K: it is a global hotel recognition dataset that helps investigators identify particular hotels and then detects where victims are being trafficked. The Hotels-50K dataset contains images from more than 50,000 hotels and includes both professional photographs from travel websites and crowd-sourced images from mobile applications to help in investigations of human trafficking. This app works by identifying the hotel where a picture was taken from a mobile application. These kind of images are more useful as they are more similar to the types of images analyzed in real-world investigation.

  • The hotel can be used as the venue for the sexual exploitation of adults and children.

  • The hotel can engage in hiring staff, especially those recruited via unscrupulous agencies, that are victims of human trafficking.

  • The hotel can use products or services that can be produced by trafficking humans or other unethical labor practices.

How Can the Hospitality Industry Help Tackle the Problem?

A young woman accompanied by a man, who looks very nervous, asks to rent a room at a hotel. The man pays in cash, books three rooms and they have no luggage. Through the night other men enter and leave the room ... In this example, there are many red flags that indicate that someone is a potential victim of human trafficking, and knowing that human trafficking is very common in hotels, training staff becomes crucial. Hotels are just one example of many places that human traffickers use to exploit their victims. Hotels cannot and should not ignore what is happening in their properties. If the industry is able to eliminate hotels as places for trafficking humans, the business of human trafficking can become disrupted.

  • Work closely with the police;

  • Train hospitality staff;

  • Use employment agencies that are ethical to hire employees;

  • develop a protocol for action for in case there is a suspicion of human trafficking.

  • Train Your Team to recognize the signs.

For Hotel Staff

They are in the perfect position to detect signs of human trafficking, especially because they may have direct contact with traffickers and victims.

Potential Signs (An indicator alone does not necessarily mean that a person is a victim):

  • Individuals show signs of fear, anxiety, tension, submission, and/or nervousness.

  • Individuals show signs of physical abuse, restraint, and/or confinement.

  • Individuals exhibit evidence of verbal threats, emotional abuse, and/or being treated in a demeaning way. Signs of undernourishment, poor hygiene, fatigue, sleep deprivation, untreated illness, injuries, and/or unusual behavior are also red flags.

  • Individuals lack freedom of movement or are constantly monitored.

  • Individuals avoid eye contact and interaction with others.

  • Individuals have no control over or possession of money or ID.

  • Individuals dress inappropriately for their age or have lower quality clothing compared to others in their party.

  • Individuals have few or no personal items—such as no luggage or other bags.

  • Individuals appear to be with a significantly older “boyfriend” or in the company of older males.

  • A group of girls appears to be traveling with an older female or male.

For Housekeeping, Maintenance, and Room Service Staff

They typically have access to the rooms where there can be very clear signs of human trafficking.

Potential Signs (An indicator alone does not necessarily mean that a person is a victim):

  • “Do Not Disturb” sign used constantly or refusal of cleaning services for multiple days.

  • Requests room or housekeeping services (additional towels, new linens, etc.), but denies hotel/motel staff entry into room.

  • Excessive amounts of cash in a room.

  • Presence of multiple computers, cell phones, pagers, credit card swipes, or other technology.

  • Children’s items or clothing are present but no child registered with the room.

  • Excessive amounts of alcohol or illegal drugs in rooms.

  • Evidence of pornography.

  • Minors left alone in room for long periods of time.

  • Excessive number of people staying in a room.

  • Extended stay with few or no personal possessions.

  • Excessive amounts of sex paraphernalia in rooms (condoms, lubricant, lotion, etc.).

For Concierge, Bellman, Front Desk, Security and Valet Staff

They are normally the firsts ones to see the guests when they enter the hotel, and victims or traffickers may have particular behaviors that can be easily detected.

General Signs (An indicator alone does not necessarily mean that a person is a victim):

  • Patrons checking into room appear distressed or injured.

  • The same person reserving multiple rooms or is the room rented hourly, less than a day, or for long-term stay that does not appear normal.

  • Few or no personal items when checking in.

  • Room paid for with cash or pre-loaded credit card.

  • Patrons are not forthcoming about full names, home address or vehicle information when registering.

  • Minor taking on adult roles or behaving older than actual age (paying bills, requesting services).

  • Patron appears with a minor that he or she did not come with originally.

  • Individuals dropped off at the hotel or visit repeatedly over a period of time.

  • Individuals leaving room infrequently, not at all, or at odd hours.

  • Minor with a patron late night or during school hours (and not on vacation).

  • Individuals checking into room have no identification.

  • Individuals enter/exit through the side or rear entrances, instead of the lobby.

For Food and Beverage Staff

These may have access to the room or can observe potential victims and traffickers at the restaurants or bars of the hotel.

General Signs (An indicator alone does not necessarily mean that a person is a victim):

  • Patron entertaining a minor at the bar or restaurant that he/she did not come in with originally.

  • Patron claims to be an adult although appearance suggests he/she is a minor.

  • Individuals loitering and soliciting male patrons.

  • Individuals waiting at a table or bar and picked up by a male (trafficker or customer).

  • Individuals asking staff or patrons for food or money.

  • Individuals taking cash or receipts left on tables.

  • Do not attempt to confront a potential trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions.

  • Call 999 for emergency situations—threats of violence, physical assault, emergency medical needs, etc.

  • Follow your corporate protocol, such as by notifying management and security


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