by Toni-Anne Barry
Over the past few years, the hospitality industry has made great strides in the fight against human trafficking. Not only has AAHOA trained thousands of members and their staff across the U.S. in human trafficking awareness through its partnerships with leading prevention organizations, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) and Polaris, but more brands are implementing standard training requirements for franchisees and employees. This surge in awareness is key to slowing the spread of human trafficking and is an instrumental step toward bringing it to an end in the future. For too long, human trafficking was an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem for many Americans. But with the development of awareness campaigns and trainings for individuals that work in every sector of the travel and tourism industry, a light is being shone on the victims of this heinous crime.
Such a widespread problem needs a comprehensive, all hands on deck approach. That’s why AAHOA is working with state and federal lawmakers around the country to act as a resource as they draft and introduce legislation on human trafficking. Florida is a great example of what can be done when the private and public sector work together, and when both parties cross the aisle to find solutions. During Florida’s 2019 legislative session, Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) introduced SB 540, which would require mandatory human trafficking awareness training for specified lodging employees such as front desk and housekeeping staff. Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Meyers) introduced its companion bill, HB 851, in the House. The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and AAHOA played a key role in the specifics of the legislation to make sure that hotels and their owners were represented accurately within the text. Both bills passed with bipartisan support in a major win for all Florida communities.
Legislators in Washington D.C. are also taking on this problem with the introduction of HR 1427. Reps. Chris Smith (D-NJ) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) co-sponsored the legislation, which would create a list of preferred hotels for government employees or government-sponsored travelers. The requirements to be on the list include that all hotel staff have to be fully trained in human trafficking awareness and signage most be posted in the hotel or in the employee handbook that explains what human trafficking is and how to report it. The goal is to create a zero-tolerance policy for human trafficking at all hotels, to make them safer for all guests and to save victims. Rep. Smith is a longtime champion of human trafficking prevention legislation, sponsoring several bills on the issue during his time in Congress, and AAHOA continues to support him on this effort.
As more legislators on the state and federal levels work to produce legislation that confronts the scourge of human trafficking, the greater the need is for the hotel industry to act as a resource. Hoteliers and staff are at the front line of this fight and can offer important and unique information to lawmakers who are working on human trafficking prevention. AAHOA actively works with these officials as the voice of America’s hoteliers to ensure that their invaluable perspective contributes to the development of comprehensive state and federal policies.