Owners Beware: Hotels Face Increased Brand and Liability Risks for Human Trafficking

By William Shepherd Partner, Holland & Knight LLP | April 15, 2018

In February of this year, Marriott’s CEO, Arne Sorenson, took the courageous step of highlighting the human trafficking dangers that exist within the hotel industry. He referred to the story a Marriott employee who, when presented with the situation of two suspicious men in the company of a 12-year old boy, did not stand by idly. Instead, she reached out to her supervisor and together they alerted authorities.

As it turns out, the boy had been missing for three days. The hotel employee’s quick thinking was the only thing that prevented an awful situation from becoming even worse.

Sorenson told this success story both to draw attention to the dangers of human trafficking and to also illustrate the steps that his company was undertaking to combat the issue. First and foremost, Marriott has developed a training program to educate all new associates on human trafficking. Secondly, the company has implemented anti-human trafficking policies, so that all employees know what the company protocol is for dealing with potential human trafficking.

Marriott’s affirmative steps put it in line with the growing national and international trend toward requiring companies to weed out trafficking from both their own businesses and along their supply chains. This article traces that trend and points out how these various laws apply to the hotel industry.

Domestic Laws

The most recent legislative effort to hold businesses, including hotels, accountable for the actions of third-party traffickers is the Fight Online Sex Traffickers Act (FOSTA). The Senate passed FOSTA in March and it now awaits the President’s signature. FOSTA would make it illegal to, either knowingly or with reckless disregard, support, assist, or facilitate sex trafficking. While FOSTA’s primary focus is to target websites that permit sex ads, ultimately, its reckless disregard standard could apply to hotels that turn a blind eye to trafficking that occurs within their facilities. Consequently, if a hotel does not train or otherwise educate their employees on how to handle human trafficking, it might find itself liable under FOSTA.

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Food & Beverage: Millennials Rule

The Millennial Generation has surpassed the Baby Boomers to become the largest living generation in America, and their tastes and preferences are being reflected in the Food & Beverage industry. In general, Millennials insist on more natural, healthier, less-processed food and beverage sources, and in part, this inspired the farm-to-table movement. However, now the trend is becoming even more pronounced and hyper-local. Millennials no longer simply want to know their food is farm-to-table, they want to know which farm, and where it's located relative to the community. As a result, hotel F&B directors are redesigning entire menus to feature area brewers, wineries, and family farms. Not only is this a proven way to satisfy Millennial tastes but it also opens the door for hotel guests to enjoy immersive experiences such as tours and excursions to local farms and breweries. Also, thanks in no small part to Millennials, coffee consumption is at an all-time high. In response, F&B directors are creating innovative ways to enhance the coffee experience for guests. Nitro-brewed coffee, cold brew, lattes on draft, and the introduction of unique milk options are part of this trend, as are locally sourced coffee beans where available. Millennial influences can also be found in the Craft and Artisan Cocktail movement where the same preferences for locally sourced and high-quality ingredients apply. One leading hotel even offers a drink menu featuring liquors infused with herbs recommended by experts for their health and well-being benefits. The August issue of the Hotel Business Review will document the trends and challenges in the food and beverage sector, and report on what some leading hotels are doing to enhance this area of their business.