I started my career in 1987 as a night security guard in a five-star hotel where the economy was booming, the hotel was packed and our nightclub and bars were bouncing. Standing in the lobby all night long, it wasn’t hard to see the men that had picked up a sex worker in the bar or nightclub. Sure, at first glance it could appear that two people met and decided they liked each other enough that they chose to spend the night together. Upon closer observation though, it was obvious that men were choosing from a pool of the same few girls night after night. Some of the girls would go to and from rooms more than once a night. For the most part, security and hotel management turned a blind eye to the activity. As security officers, we were instructed not to intervene unless there was a disturbance. Our instructions were that we shouldn’t put the guest in an embarrassing situation.
Prostitution was frowned upon, but only if it became “visible”.
Some years later, I transferred to a city where one of our hotels had a “problematic” problem. It had the same policies as our other hotels. The acceptance of prostitution seemed somewhat different as sex workers routinely stopped by the front desk and paid commission to the night auditors following the visits to the guest rooms. Yes, accepting such “commissions” was completely illegal, but the practice was so common that some staff were actually shocked when they received the memo saying the practice was illegal and would no longer be tolerated.
In that same city, the final eight or ten pages in the official tourist guide available for free pick up in every hotel lobby were filled with advertising for “escort services” and concierges were up to speed on which services they would recommend to business travellers and which were better suited to the leisure traveller.
One of the best arguments we in security had for convincing management that we needed stricter prostitution mitigation policies was that guests who engaged with sex workers often fell victim to other crimes.
They would wake up to find their valuables, their computers with important business data and sometimes everything they had brought with them into the hotel room, including the young girl they had met in the nightclub had simply vanished into thin air.
Some lock systems, but far too few, in hotel rooms can show when the door is opened from the inside, as opposed to when it is unlocked with a card or key or phone from the outside. We would show lock data readouts to guests who were blaming room attendants for theft that showed the door had been opened from the outside at midnight (in line with what time the guest told us they had gone to bed) but that the door had been opened from the inside indicating “someone” had left the room at 1:30 am. We would suggest that the guest contact this “someone” and ask if they had taken all the guest’s belongings by mistake. We then took some guilty pleasure in watching the guest turn a bright colour of embarrassed red while pleading with us not to tell their wife, boss, boyfriend or mother…
Discussions about prostitution at management level were most often around how guests would react if we became too strict, if we forced people’s “guests” to sign in so we had accurate in-house lists or even if we stopped handing out booklets advertising prostitution. Sometimes the discussions would be on how to properly handle guest allegations of theft or other complaints. Rarely though, did these discussions ever touch upon the sex workers themselves and their well-being. In a situation where someone was being physically abused, we were siding more with the abuser than the real victims.
Those of us that worked night shifts for more than a few months witnessed the decline in health of some of the regular sex workers that frequented our nightclub. We also noticed when they disappeared altogether and we knew that some of them had died, usually of drug overdoses.
In some locations, the sex workers that frequent bars and nightclubs are more often foreign than local. Over time, they are replaced by new batches of fresh faces. When a General Manager once asked me if I knew how much revenue his night club would lose if they clamped down on prostitution, I asked him if he ever thought how the young girls from foreign countries had found his nightclub and where he thought they went when they weren’t there anymore. He understood that unlike in the little town where he grew up, the girls weren’t in his club for a summer of fun before going off to college.
We’ve Made Some Strides as an Industry – But We Could Do More
During the three decades I have been involved in hotel security, there have been improvements. The city that had the tourism guide full of ads for escort agencies, doesn’t have those ads anymore. Many hotels have improved access controls and guest registration policies. Many support ECPAT, an organization that coordinates research, advocacy and action to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children or similar schemes. Similarly, many jurisdictions have stepped up their enforcement efforts against prostitution and human trafficking. A number have also established hotel specific collaborative initiatives in this regard.
Still, many hotels or the hoteliers that run them still have the “if it’s not publicly visible, it’s not a problem” policies in place, which is underpinned by a feeling that if some guests wish to be allowed to bring sex workers to their rooms, then it wouldn’t be proper hospitality to deny them that wish.
Many companies have business travel safety policies that require their employees to behave appropriately so as not to endanger themselves, their own or company property or reputation, but still hotels can and should do more to blunt the encroachment of prostitution on their premises. Like other criminal activity, prostitution not only victimizes those engaged in it. It can also give rise to a “hostile work environment” by imposing an implied obligation upon hotel staff to tacitly accept and/or ignore the presence of such activity on hotel premises.
I’m not under the illusion that this is a problem that can be simply solved by policing a stricter policy, but more awareness and education on the complexities of the problem and collaboration between stakeholders that have the well-being of all victims in mind might be a good place to start.
Questions for Consideration
- Have, and if so, how have your policies and procedures on prostitution and human trafficking changed in the past few years?
- Which local organizations do you collaborate with and how do you work together to reduce the risk of prostitution and human trafficking in your area?
- Which policies, procedures and training programs are most effective when dealing with prostitution and human trafficking in hotels?
Unsure about how to go about reducing the risk of crime, prostitution and human trafficking in your hotels and resorts? NorthPoint can help. Contact us for more information.