Indian-American hoteliers meet U.S. lawmakers, launch new human trafficking awareness program

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Members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association on Capitol Hill. (Photo: aahoa.com)

This May 8, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, AAHOA, kicked off its two-day Spring National Advocacy Conference as over 250 hoteliers from across the country visited Washington, DC to meet with their legislators on Capitol Hill. They highlighted how the hospitality industry is a key economic driver in the United States, a press release said.

The Asian American Hotel Owners Association, whose members are mostly Indian-Americans, and which represents an estimated 50 percent of the U.S. hospitality industry, also launched a new digital training for members and their employees May 2, that focuses on raising awareness of human trafficking in the hospitality industry.

The AAHOA Vice Chairwoman Jagruti Panwala testified before the House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access. Panwala focused on the impact of the travel and tourism industry on the American economy and highlighted the contributions of hotels and discussed the challenges the industry faces.
“It is a privilege to appear before the Congress and share the story of our industry and the important role that travel and tourism play in driving the American economy. This week, hundreds of AAHOA members are meeting with their elected officials and sharing their stories of small business success and helping our lawmakers understand how the policies they create are affecting their constituencies, Panwala said, according to an AAHOA press release. “The economic indicators in America’s travel and tourism industry point to strong economic performance and a promising future. Unemployment is low, and business and consumer confidences are high. Hoteliers are increasing wages and workers are in demand,” said Panwala.

Earlier, in the May 2 AAHOA announcement of a joint partnership with Polaris, an organization that fights against ‘modern slavery’ the Indian-American hoteliers announced that the AAHOA Human Trafficking Awareness Training (HTAT) is available exclusively to AAHOA’s nearly 18,000 members and the over 600,000 employees at member properties at no cost, the news release said.

“Hoteliers have a moral imperative to prevent human trafficking at their properties,” AAHOA Chairman Hitesh (HP) Patel is quoted saying in the press release. “Unfortunately, the privacy and anonymity that are inherent in the hotel industry, as well as the frequent turnover of clientele, make hotels an attractive venue for criminals looking to exploit trafficking victims,” Hitesh Patel noted.

“With a membership that owns about one in every two hotels across the United States, AAHOA is capitalizing on that reach to promote education and awareness of human trafficking,” said AAHOA President and CEO Chip Rogers. “This important training not only focuses on sex trafficking, but also on labor trafficking, which can be difficult to spot,” Rogers added. Being a conscientious employer means understanding how labor brokers and recruiters exploit workers and requesting supply chain transparency to ensure that no one is being forced to work against his or her will, Rogers said. “Hoteliers are uniquely positioned to disrupt the criminal networks and individuals that exploit society’s most vulnerable through human trafficking, and they can save lives in the process,” Rogers emphasized.

“This new training developed with Polaris will go a long way to help hoteliers and their employees identify the signs of sex and labor trafficking, assist victims, and work with law enforcement to keep this criminal activity out of our communities,” Hitesh Patel said speaking at a Houston, Texas roundtable discussion on the issue, hosted by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-TX. The roundtable also included representatives from the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, and Polaris.

“This training is a vital tool in the fight against sex trafficking and forced labor,” said Joe Racalto, director of Government Relations at Polaris said, adding, “Education is one of the keys to ending modern slavery and restoring freedom and dignity to survivors. By making it freely available to so many hoteliers and hotel workers, we can quickly raise awareness of the issue.”

AAHOA is the largest hotel owners association in the world, its website says. The more than 17,700 AAHOA members own almost one in every two hotels in the United States, with billions of dollars in property assets and hundreds of thousands of employees. “AAHOA is a proud defender of free enterprise and the foremost current-day example of realizing the American dream,” the website notes.

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