During HT-NEXT 2022, attendees had the opportunity to listen to a panel put together by Eliza McCoy, VP of Prevention & Awareness Programs, AHLA Foundation on human trafficking. During this session, panelists spoke about how the hospitality technology industry can work together to slow and hopefully one day eradicate this global problem. Below is a brief recap of just a few of the main points made during the session; however, we encourage everyone to take an hour out of their day to listen to the session in full so as to really hear and understand the message that McCoy and her panelists brought to the event stage.
To begin with, Rosemarie Vesci, Supervisory Special Agent, U.S. Government provided the audience with a list of myths and misconceptions about what trafficking looks like. For example: “All victims are minors, all victims are girls, all victims want to be rescued, and all victims are foreigners.”
When she began investigating sex trafficking cases in 2010, she couldn’t believe that the vast majority of trafficked individuals in the United States are U.S. citizens, and usually minors.
“I’ve seen people with severe physical, mental, emotional and intelligence disorders being trafficked,” explained Alia Dewees, Director of Aftercare Development, Safe House Project. “Never assume that a person couldn’t be in trouble or being trafficked.”
Similarly, it’s also important to know that a trafficker isn’t always a seedy looking bad guy.
“We’ve found that more than 40% of minor victims are first trafficked by a family member,” explained Brittany Dunn, COO & Co-Founder, Safe House Project. “One of our first cases was of a 10-year-old victim being trafficked by her own grandmother.”
For this reason, the hospitality industry – both hoteliers and the technology community that works alongside hoteliers – has to be willing to train their employees on the warning signs.
Zoila Rivera-Velasquez, Regional Sales Director, Encore told a heartwarming story of how one of Encore’s employees noticed a young female passenger on an airplane who was scared and showing signs of being trafficked. He recognized the signs because he had recently completed a training on what trafficking looked like. When the Encore employee alerted the flight attendants, they agreed that she was displaying concerning behavior and delayed the flight in order to have her safely removed and questioned. Later on, the Encore employee was called up to the cockpit and told that the young female had admitted to being trafficked and that she was getting the help she needed to get out of that situation.
How Technology Could Help
And while training is a very real help, McCoy and her panelists appealed to the technologists in the room to go move beyond training and begin innovating with technology to help stop trafficking.
For example, Dewees listed common trafficking situations and asked the audience to meditate on what type of data they could collect that would then be used to point out potential anomalies to on staff employees.
For example, anti-trafficking organizations know from their work with victims that there are often multiple girls in one room with a single male, or two adjoining rooms are booked and the male stays in one while the female is in the other. It’s also well known that the hotel guestroom door will open frequently as non-guest males come and go from the guestroom. For hotels where a key card is required to ride the elevator and access the guestrooms, victims are sent downstairs multiple times a day to bring up their “clients.”
The audience was asked: Can technologists track how often the door to a guestroom is opened? Can security cameras track how often non-guests are brought to a guestroom in a single day? Can guests be tracked to see how often they go to the lobby and bring a non-guest up to their room?
Even if it’s not possible to collect those specific data points, beginning the conversation and asking these types of questions is what’s really valuable, McCoy noted.
But don’t work to create a solution without first engaging with survivors, said Dunn. They need to be included in these tech conversations from the very beginning. Why? Because they will tell technologists how they interacted with hotel employees (or how they avoided them), what tips and tricks their trafficker used to go unnoticed and to avoid prosecution, etc.
Watch the session in full below!