Testing the Power of Public Relations: Meeting Planner Enlists Hotels in Fight Against Sex Trafficking
By Mitchell Beer for CSRwire
A St. Louis, Missouri, meeting planner is generating an avalanche of attention and some glimmers of action after drawing public and media attention to human sex trafficking in hotels that host participants in major conventions and sporting events.
Kimberly Ritter of Nix Conference & Meeting Management first learned about the problem when she was organizing a meeting for a client, the Sisters of St. Joseph. As she searched through the victim profiles on sex trafficking sites, she recognized the wallpaper and furniture in the hotel rooms where the photos had been taken — and realized the scope of a devastating illegal trade that meeting and event planners are uniquely positioned to fight.
Conventions Attract Sex-Traffickers
With the world’s largest meeting and events association, Meeting Professionals International, holding its global conference St. Louis next month, thousands of delegates will have the opportunity and the clout to question hotel properties on their own commitment to confront the issue.
“We need to fight what we sometimes create,” Ritter told CSRwire. “With large sporting events like the Super Bowl or the World Series, it’s very public that trafficking occurs. But when a large convention comes to town, that also attracts the traffickers, and it’s usually meeting planners bringing these events to town.
“In essence, we’re alerting these traffickers that there’s an opportunity to make money.”
Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct
Ritter began approaching St. Louis-area hotels to sign the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct developed by ECPAT, an international campaign to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children. By signing, the properties commit to training their staff to identify and report signs that their rooms are being used for human trafficking. The St. Louis Millennium Hotel signed in 2011, and Real Hospitality Group became the first U.S. hotel management company to join the campaign earlier this month.
“I encourage other companies to follow suit,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) at the signing ceremony. “Law enforcement authorities cannot, by themselves, win the struggle against human trafficking, the twenty-first century form of slavery. That’s why enlisting the support and active participation of the private sector in this critical effort is so important.”
Meeting Planner Code of Conduct
Ritter also worked with ECPAT to draft a Meeting Planner Code of Conduct, and Nix was the first company to sign. The connection matters, because planners have the economic clout to bring the entire hospitality industry into a serious conversation about ending child sexual exploitation.
“When we walk in as meeting planners, we don’t represent one sleeping room for one night,” she explained. “We’re reserving 2,000 sleeping rooms for five nights. And we don’t just represent those 2,000 rooms. We organize 50, 75, 100 meetings per year. So we bring revenue, and if the general managers want our business back, of course they’ll take the time to meet with us and listen to us.”
But will hotels follow up with implementation without breaking their unspoken code of “every effort is made to create a seamless, worry-free experience for every guest,” even if it means smiling problems away and pretending that all is well”? Continue reading Mitchell Beer’s report on CSRwire Talkback.