Is There Really No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers?

Is There Really No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers?

Why it’s important to study how many hotels have anti-trafficking training

By Michelle Guelbart, MSW, and Julia Wejchert


When ECPAT-USA started working with hotels to combat child sex trafficking 13 years ago, very few people understood the urgency of our work. We knew that victims are often isolated from their friends, family, and community members, and we also knew that the hospitality industry is one of few industries in a unique position to recognize and identify victims. Unfortunately, our outreach to hotels was often met with shock and denial. We heard hotel after hotel respond that this may be happening but “not in my hotel.”

As we made progress with the general public through awareness campaigns and outreach, we also worked with hotel brands to implement policies and training to begin alerting hospitality associates of their unique role in stopping human trafficking. Slowly things began to change and we reached a turning point. Corporate policies against human trafficking and child exploitation are touted as industry standard. Training (even mandated) is now recognized as best practice. Many hotels train their associates to recognize the indicators of child sex trafficking and respond appropriately. But until now, no one knew exactly how many hotels had training.

The report we released today, No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers, provides exactly that information. It is the first of its kind, providing data from hotel properties across the United States about their training. Specifically, it shows that half of all hotels in the United States have had training for their associates. It also reports that over 80% of hotel associates who had training had increased awareness of child sex trafficking, and over 90% of managers with training who said they had increased knowledge in the past 3 years said the increase was a result of their training.

Another question this report answers is “where is anti-trafficking training coming from?” The results show that at least 35% of hotels with training were using programming  developed by ECPAT-USA. 

Additionally, most training, whether it was developed by ECPAT-USA or someone else, was distributed by hotel brands. This means that individual hotel properties usually use training they get from their parent companies like Hilton, Hyatt, or Wyndham. Therefore, when a hotel brand decides to take on an issue, it can be life changing and far reaching. And in the case of human trafficking awareness training, it can be life saving.

This training is so important because hotel rooms are used by pimps for child sex trafficking. An issue that was previously confined to the streets has now, with the use of online classified ads, also moved to the Internet and behind the closed doors of hotels rooms. Pimps rent rooms in hotels, then go online to create advertisements in adult sexual services pages, and finally sell victims in hotels or have victims meet purchasers at nearby hotels.

While the hospitality industry is not responsible for the exploitation, it does have an important role to play in helping to stop it. By training their associates to recognize indicators and providing a clear, safe response procedure hotel staff can follow if they do see something suspicious, hotels can help to protect children from exploitation.

While the report shows exciting progress in this area, there is still work to be done.

That half of U.S. hotels report using training is a significant achievement, but the other half of hotels still need to be reached. Additionally, the findings in our report suggest that some properties who have access to trainings through ECPAT-USA partnerships are not taking full advantage of training opportunities. While many are utilizing ECPAT-USA training, we must continue to work to ensure that all hotel associates have access to such important programming. 

In the next few weeks we will be publishing a series of blog posts about what travelers, the hotel industry, and governments can do to continue the fight against child sex trafficking. Together we can ensure that no child is bought or sold.