By Trusha Patel
Texas Hotelier, AAHOA Member
What makes hotels attractive to guests? For some, it’s the amenities, the perks awarded for frequent stays, the privacy, the comfort, and the anonymity that are all inherent to accommodations that can make guests feel at home or provide them with a bit of an escape.
Unfortunately, some of these traits that keep guests coming back to our properties also attract an unseemly element – human traffickers.
As a hotelier, I’d heard about human trafficking at industry events, and it seems like it’s a popular topic on network news magazines. But only after taking a comprehensive training in how to identify and respond to suspected trafficking incidents did I realize the sheer scale of the crimes being committed and their significant impact on our industry, our communities, and our country. Human trafficking occurs every day in America and impacts communities in a multitude of ways.
Hotels are an attractive draw for these exploiters because of the privacy and anonymity guests enjoy. With an ever-changing clientele, one might think that hotel staff would not blink an eye at individuals coming and going from the property – and this is what traffickers count on.
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. But, thanks to an educational partnership between AAHOA and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), Texas hoteliers are educating their employees and fighting back to end human trafficking in the Lone Star State.
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, protect their guests, their employees, and their property. That is why I am committed to ensuring that as many hoteliers and their employees as possible receive human trafficking awareness training – and that starts right here in Texas.
The Human Trafficking Awareness Training (HTAT) developed by AAHOA and BEST provides hotel owners and employees with the knowledge they need to identify and respond to trafficking situations.
Here in Texas, our proximity to the border means that thousands of trafficking victims pass through our state on their way to other parts of the country, and hoteliers can play a crucial role in stopping traffickers and helping victims gain their freedom.
The more I learned about anti-trafficking efforts and the key role education plays in disrupting these criminal networks, I knew that making hoteliers aware of this problem is vital to our industry and our communities.
To share this information with as many hoteliers as possible, I started locally in Austin, my hometown. I invited the Austin Hotel and Lodging Association Board of Directors and their staff to participate in the training.
Strong partnership efforts made by Association President Denise Eisman had a big impact in the Austin area and helped with getting the entire board certified. That training led to general managers at two Austin hotels setting up training for their employees, and over forty hotel employees became HTAT certified by the end of September last year.
These initial results were encouraging. I know that Texas can lead the way when it comes to making sure hotel employees have the knowledge and resources to combat human trafficking.
I reached out to Texas Hotel and Lodging Association President and CEO Scott Joslove to share my vision for our state – to certify as many hotel employees in human trafficking awareness and prevention as possible and to serve as a model for hoteliers across the nation. He graciously offered me this platform to outline my plan and helped me coordinate with the municipal lodging associations throughout our state to build on the Austin model.
Because of how our industry is organized, I determined that a grasstops approach to employee training and certification would allow us to reach the most owners and employees.
With each of the city associations for hotel and lodging in Texas following Austin’s lead in getting HTAT certified, we are building a network of 75 to 100 high-level industry partners that not only understand this important issue but also are taking it back to their properties and partners in their cities.
Working with these committed individuals, we’ve trained over 500 owners, managers, and employees by the end of 2018. Initially, I hoped that we could certify over 1000 hotel employees across the state, which would be the largest number of HTAT certified employees in the nation. But our initial efforts suggest that this number can be much higher. The Texas model can serve as one for other states to emulate.
Combatting human trafficking requires knowledge; making it easier for hoteliers and their employees to know how to spot the signs of trafficking will empower them to stop human trafficking. This will go a long way toward helping victims and keeping their criminal exploiters out of our hotels and our communities.
To learn more about human trafficking prevention and human trafficking awareness training, please visit http://www.aahoa.com/htat.
Also, learn more about THLA’s partnership with BEST for complimentary Human Trafficking Awareness Training.
Trusha Patel is Texas-based hotelier with over two decades of hospitality experience and is a featured speaker for hospitality conferences.
She serves as the Managing Member for Capital City Hospitality Group, which owns and operates branded and independent hotels throughout Texas. Trusha is the Senior Vice President of Commercial Brokerage for TEN-X, the nation’s leading auction site for commercial real estate transactions. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Austin Hotel and Lodging Association.
Trusha is a lifetime member of AAHOA, the world’s largest hotel owners association. Since 2009, Trusha has served as an AAHOA Ambassador and committee member.
She has become an AAHOA leader in the effort to train hoteliers and their employees on human trafficking awareness, leading training seminars throughout Texas.Trusha holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from University of Texas at San Antonio and a Master of Arts in Psychology from Texas Southern University. She started her career as a school psychologist. In 2008 she decided to go back to school for the Executive MBA from Baylor University and graduated with honors in 2010.
Trusha and her husband Hitesh (HP) have two children and reside in Austin, Texas.