According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, Florida has more than 440,000 hotel rooms and more than 3700 hotel properties. Those numbers are not surprising considering Florida is number 2 for tourists visits in America. Yet, among the sunny beaches and palm trees there lurks a dark side of Florida’s tourism industry – human trafficking. For example, while Miami recently hosted the SuperBowl , officials, volunteers and law enforcement were on the alert for human trafficking.
While the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), was established in 2000, it has only been recently utilized to successfully hold hotels and motels liable for damages related to sex trafficking. Accordingly, more hotels and motels, including those in Florida, are receiving lawsuits based on the TVPA. Hotels and motels need to be aware of this law and must develop robust policies, procedures and training programs for their management and front line associates.
Pursuant to the TVPA, companies that profit financially from sex trafficking or forced labor can be held responsible under this law. Accordingly, a hotel renting out rooms to people forcing human trafficking victims into prostitution may profit financially from that activity. Of course, hotel management and staff members are not always aware of what goes on in guests’ lodging rooms. But, if a hotel ignores obvious signs of trafficking, hotel companies may be held liable by survivors of trafficking and/or prosecuted criminally for sex trafficking by the government.
Below are some suggestions for best practices related to prevention of human trafficking at hotels and motels.
- Develop a formal policy against trafficking.
- Develop a protocol for response to possible trafficking.
- Conduct regular training on trafficking signs and the protocol for response. Train all new associates and provide regular training on a periodic basis and before high profile events.
- Require vehicle information and photo ID at check-in for guests.
- Do not rent lodging rooms by the hour and be alert when lodging rooms are paid for by cash or pre-paid cards.
- Consider security camera placement. Verify that all guests and visitors who enter a hotel or motel are captured and recorded. Use cameras at the front desk and in parking areas.
- Establish law enforcement contacts trained on human trafficking. Many agencies are providing training related to this issue.
- Monitor online advertisements for your hotel or motel name and pictures of your lodging rooms.
- Change public wi-fi passwords regularly.
- Limit hotel entrance to one staffed area at night. Require that associates actively greet and speak with all guests and visitors. Require that all visitors are logged.
- Be alert if a guest requests a lodging room with view of parking lot.
- Be alert to heavy foot traffic in and out of a lodging room.
- Be alert to guests dressed inappropriately for the climate or age.
- Be alert to frequent requests for new linens and towels.
- Be alert to guests with signs of physical or sexual abuse.
- Be alert to guests with signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, or fatigue.
- Be alert to guests with limited or no freedom of movement or monitored movement.
Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims. You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.