I know what most of you are thinking – not in my backyard, right? Well think again, dear reader, because this topic keeps rearing its ugly head, even right here in our own beautiful city full of magic and make-believe. In fact, as recently as January 22 of this very year the Orlando Sentinel featured an article on page one, “She wages fight against trafficking,” about a local photojournalist, Dianna Scimone, who has taken this cause to heart and is trying to do something about it. Further, if you simply Google Orlando Sentinel human trafficking you would be amazed at how many articles pop up over the past few years pointing out that, sadly, Florida has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation.
And now you might also be wondering why this dark topic is being covered in the Hospitality Hive – generally a forum for information and, well, happiness about the industry “hive” that employs more people than any other in our Central Florida community. Two reasons: 1] January was National Human Trafficking Awareness Month (I know, I know, I’m a little behind with this post, but. . .) 2] It’s a current hot topic in the meetings and events industry which brings us full circle back to that Hospitality stuff.
You see, beyond the human element, this type of trafficking involves two basic aspects of hospitality: hotels and travel. Hello, Orlando! Now do you see where this is going? And if you’re still shaking your head in denial, how about this news flash: Tourism industry giants like Delta Airlines and Hilton Hotels have actively come out and become leaders in helping to identify and stop this kind of activity. How? Here are some simple signs that hotel and airline employees are now being trained to watch for:
- couples checking in with no luggage at airport
- girls being watched, even in bathrooms, and appear to not know where they are headed in their travels
- bar code tatoos on female travel companions
- no cleaning allowed for multiple days in hotel rooms
- lots of cell phone usage with numerous phones
- oddly matched ‘couples’ – don’t look like they belong to each other, yet traveling together
- paying cash for rooms, one day and a time, and/or travel tickets – bus/train/air
- female never speaks; man does all the talking and handles all transactions
In fact, in case you think this type of degradation can only happen in dive joints think again because even four and five star properties have been the target of successful sting operations. [Case in point, remember Subway spokesperson, Jared Fogle, was arrested in a five star hotel for child prostitution.] Further, both Marriott and Hilton hotels have now removed pornographic movies from their pay-per-view channels saying that it had contributed to the demand for sex trafficking.
And here’s a doosey of a fact: the Superbowl is widely considered one of the largest annual events for human trafficking.
I could go on and list other gruesome statistics, but I think it’s more important to point out what we – you and I – can do to right now to help combat this disturbing activity that by some estimates affects nearly 100,000 children each year and millions more adults around the globe. First, we have to agree to push the conversation; accept discussing the facts instead of continuing to ignore things. Next, we have to be willing to speak up and report suspected victims/abuses as we observe them in our surroundings, wherever and whenever. Finally, look up and read about the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct created in 1996 by ECPAT INTERNATIONAL, a global network of organizations dedicated to the protection of children from sexual exploitation. This code of conduct allows for training employees on how to spot trafficking and promotes a zero-tolerance policy of sexual exploitation among those who sign as participants. Small but meaningful steps in a global problem that plagues the hospitality industry like no other.