MPI’s WEC Enlists Planners to Combat Human Trafficking

Michelle Guelbart, Director of Private Sector Engagement, ECPAT-USA, Onstage at WEC 2018. One of the hot topics at MPI’s WEC 2018 in Indianapolis is sex trafficking, as it relates to the travel industry.

Michelle Guelbart, Director of Private Sector Engagement, ECPAT-USA, Onstage at WEC 2018

Michelle Guelbart, director of private sector engagement for ECPAT-USA, detailed some of the signs and ways to help during her presentation “ECPAT: The Meeting and Event Industry’s Role in Combatting Sex Trafficking,” which took place on Monday, June 4, 2018. ECPAT-USA is a nonprofit organization that exists to create a world where no child is bought, sold or used for sex.

In her role at ECPAT, Guelbart advises companies on CSR efforts to protect children from trafficking and provides support and recommendations with training and workshops to ECPAT-USA partners including Carlson Companies, Delta Air Lines, Wyndham Worldwide, Sabre and Hilton Worldwide.

She also presents her work and recommendations to local, international and federal government agencies as well as industry professionals and wrote the content for the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Institute’s e-learning module to combat child sex trafficking in the U.S.

Guelbart’s presentation was meant to help attendees:

  • Understand the scope of the issue;
  • Recognize the signs of human trafficking;
  • Know how to report suspected trafficking and;
  • Engage suppliers, travelers, corporates to amplify awareness.

“When I first started working on the issue, I only heard about it when there was violence,” she said.

But the issue and instances are more complex.

In the U.S. there is a law that any child sold in the sex trade is considered a victim.

“There is no such thing as child prostitution,” Guelbart said.

She also noted victims are often boys.

Due to a law passed in 1991, children are not arrested but instead are offered services. Adult victims however need to make a case to prove there was force, fraud or coercion.

[Related Content: Q&A With MPI’s Paul VanDeventer on Meetings Industry Hot Topics]

According to Guelbart, with the growth of technology, traffickers are running their business on the streets and on the Internet. Traffickers, buyers and victims believe the travel industry is anonymous and low risk.

She believes the meeting and event industry is uniquely situated to be the eyes and ears of identifying human trafficking and child exploitation.

Though there is general talk about big events like the Super Bowl drawing more instances of trafficking, Guelbart emphasized, “This is a 365 day a year crime.”

Identifying Human Trafficking

Instances of sex trafficking can be hard to spot, but Guelbart listed some of the signs, many of which are related in some way to the travel industry and could be apparent to a hotel or airline worker, such as the victim carrying minimal luggage or not having identification or access to travel documents.

Another sign she noted that could send a signal to a hotel worker or guest is a room in a hotel that opens and closes on regular intervals, perhaps every hour or half-hour.

Knowing the signs can help in people’s professional and personal lives.

One attendee in the audience from MPI’s Oregon chapter spoke about her experience helping a victim at a gas station when she was heading out for a kayaking trip. A young girl was on her own hanging around the station and several times got very close to the attendee while she was tying up a kayak on the roof.

[Related Content: Veteran Planner Sandi Biback Fights Human Trafficking]

The odd behavior at first felt threatening, but she had recently attended a session on human trafficking and realized the girl could be in trouble.

She enlisted the help of two other women at the station who also felt there was something amiss. They kept the girl, whose story kept changing, busy while the attendee called the police.

It turns out it was a case of trafficking and the girl was helped with the actions taken.

How to Respond to and Stop Human Trafficking

Guelbart’s advice for response includes notifying the manager of a hotel or security in an airport, making note of details such as the date and time of a suspected incident, names or nicknames overheard, physical identifiers such as tattoos and vehicle or hotel room information.

Guelbart said she is seeing more clients include language about sex trafficking in their RFPs, to see if the supplier has any strategies or policies in place. She suggests buyers and suppliers continue to build knowledge around the issue and suppliers discuss the issue with employees.

Planners can also enlist ECPAT-USA to speak at a meeting, and making donations to the organization can also be part of an event or meeting.

Aside from the moral aspect of combatting sex trafficking, there is potential for financial benefits and well as help upholding a company’s reputation.

She noted a company’s bottom line can be impacted with negative publicity, legal fees, and business interruptions associated with trafficking, as well as the potential loss of a client’s trust.

Watch the embedded video with MGM’s Mike Dominguez for information about the TraffickCam app, which provides an additional way meeting professionals can help combat human trafficking by snapping photos.


by Marlene Goldman