Texas leads the way in hoteliers receiving Human Trafficking Awareness Training (HTAT)
by Trusha Patel
Human trafficking is a crime that happens every day in America and touches many communities. Whether it is commercial sex trafficking or labor trafficking, if one does not know how to identify instances of trafficking, the crimes will continue to be perpetrated in broad daylight. This may sound like a grim assessment, but there is hope. America’s hoteliers and their employees are uniquely positioned to help identify and stop human trafficking and shine a spotlight on these types of illicit activities. Traffickers are drawn to places like hotels because of the anonymity of a highly transient customer base and the privacy that hotels afford guests. Hoteliers who know the signs of trafficking and know what steps to take to intervene in a potential trafficking situation can save lives, and protect their guests, employees, and property. That is why I am committed to ensuring that as many hoteliers and their employees as possible receive human trafficking awareness training.
AAHOA, in partnership with Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), offers a training that provides hotel owners and employees with the knowledge they need to identify and respond to trafficking situations. Prior to taking the AAHOA Human Trafficking Awareness Training (HTAT) earlier this year, I knew about human trafficking from what I’d seen on the news and heard about in our industry. However, I was astounded by the scale of this crime and the number of lives it touches. Thousands of trafficking victims pass through border states such as Texas on their way to other parts of the country, and hoteliers here can play a crucial role in helping victims and stopping traffickers before they endanger more lives.
After completing HTAT, I knew that making hoteliers aware of this problem is vital to our industry and our communities. So, I needed to share this information with as many hoteliers as possible. I started in Texas by inviting the Austin Hotel and Lodging Association Board of Directors and its staff to participate in the training. Following that initial training, Bitt Udemi, general manager at the Hilton Austin Airport, approached me about conducting a training for his employees, and we held a training for 40 employees at the end of September. The participants were engaged and responsive to the presentation and posed several insightful questions during the training. At the end, each received a certificate for successfully completing BEST’s Human Trafficking Awareness Training sponsored by AAHOA. Since then, I’ve trained other hotel staffs in Texas.
These initial results are encouraging. Education and training are key to addressing this issue, and, building on my experiences, I know that hotel owners can lead the way in making sure hotel employees have the knowledge and resources to combat human trafficking. I reached out to the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association (THLA) to share my vision for Texas: Certify as many hotel employees in human trafficking awareness and prevention as possible, and serve as a model for hoteliers across the nation.
Because of how our industry is organized, I propose a grassroots approach to employee training and certification. If each of the 12 city associations for hotel and lodging in Texas follows Austin’s lead in getting HTAT certified, we can have 75 to 100 high-level industry partners gain a thorough understanding of this important issue and take that knowledge back to their properties and partners.
I believe that by working together, we can certify more than 1000 hotel employees across Texas, which would be the largest number of HTAT-certified employees in the nation. The model can serve as one for other states to emulate. This can then spread to hotel owners and staff across the nation.
Making it easier to disseminate this information, and empowering hoteliers and their employees to stop human trafficking will go a long way toward helping victims and keeping criminal exploiters out of our hotels and our communities.