When 35-year meeting planning veteran Sandy Biback retired she found out her work was not finished.
But instead of continuing to be tasked with the myriad responsibilities of managing meetings and her Toronto-based independent meeting planning business, she set out to help some of the most vulnerable, and often forgotten, members of our society: victims of human trafficking.
“For me it kind of surfaced at a lecture I was at, at the local library,” Biback said of how she got involved in the fight. “At the time there was a big trial in the city about sexual harassment…so I did some research and said, ‘Whoa, who knew!’”
Working as a volunteer with Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking, Biback hopes to elevate the issue in the same way other subjects have become major considerations in the industry.
“Years ago we would ask, ‘What’s your venue doing about green?’ Now there’s expectations,” she said. “Then it became ADA and risk management. We want this to be the same thing. So planners will say ‘We aren’t going to your property unless you train people.’ We’re not there yet.”
One of the key ways those who want to combat human trafficking in hotels can get involved is by using TraffickCam, an app designed by a U.S. conference planning company that allows users to take photos of their hotel room on a cell phone and then submit them into a database. Algorithms can then figure out where images related to human trafficking that are posted on the Web or shared digitally were taken.
“We are not out to crucify any hotels, that is not our intention,” Biback said. “It is about awareness. It is about education. We know that most of the girls who are solicited and becoming victims are local girls. We always think of them being smuggled in from the Ukraine or Southeast Asia.
"That is not the case and we need to dispel that myth," she added.
Prostitution and human trafficking often occur in conjunction with large events, so making meeting planners and event, hotel and facility operators aware and enlisted in the fight is an obvious priority.
Biback said that one recent example of an event getting involved was the Calgary Stampede using the #NotInMyCity Twitter hashtag to increase the awareness of participants.
Toronto-based Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking, which has found a sponsor in the Hyatt Regency Toronto and local company Stagevision, is also visiting schools with hospitality programs to spread the message to the next generation.
Another tactic is to convince planners to include language in their RFPs asking facilities what they are doing to combat human trafficking. And there’s evidence that the issue is gaining traction.
The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) trafficking its mandate last year, working with ECPAT International, a global organization that fights for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.
“Our ultimate goal is that everyone working in the hotel industry, the suppliers, are trained for what to look for and what to do,” Biback said. “We know this is happening, and what are you doing about it?
"Our goal is to make people aware," she added.
Paying It Forward
Here are some organizations making a difference:
Three employees at the InterContinental Milwaukee wanted to do something to support the fight against breast cancer and came up with the idea of The Pink Room; $25 from each night’s stay in these special pink rooms, complete with pink accents throughout, themed artwork, special amenities and laptops for each guest to share their personal story, are donated to ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis.
New York’s The Saratoga Hilton donated $7,000 to The Hawley Foundation for Children of Saratoga County. The Hawley Foundation for Children has been assisting the neediest youth in the community for more than 50 years through grants to organizations, individuals and college-bound students.
[Related Content: Read more about those giving back in our industry].