WHAT WE DO® converges legal, safety, and security solutions for the hotel, food and beverage, private club, meeting, event, and corporate travel industries.

We are a worldwide network of attorneys that focus on hospitality, travel and tourism issues; a marketing conduit for suppliers of legal, safety and security solutions to reach hospitality developers and operators in need of those solutions; we mitigate critical incidents, injuries, litigation and liability within the hospitality industry, in the U.S. and abroad by facilitating the creation, collection, and dissemination of legal, safety and security information, products and services.


Attorney of the Week
Jerry Hamilton

Jerry is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. He has been nationally recognized as one of the Top Ten Defense Lawyers in the United States by one of the largest insurance companies in the world. He is a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America, an invitation-only trial honorary society composed of less than one-half percent of lawyers in The United States. Jerry is frequently asked to step in as trial counsel in the days, weeks, and months leading up to trial in complex, high exposure matters across the country. His and his Firm’s specialty is taking the most severe cases to trial at a moment’s notice telling his client’s story in the most effective and compelling manner. Jerry is also Board Certified in Maritime Law, has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Law & Politics every year since 2006, and is named as one of Florida’s “Legal Elite” by Florida Trend. He has been selected as one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators® for 2018— this is by invitation only and is reserved to identify the nation’s most exceptional trial attorneys in high value, high stakes legal matters.

Law Firm of the Week
Holland & Knight

At Holland & Knight, we put our legal knowledge to work for you in a practical manner. We know that in order to be the best value to you, we must first provide personalized solutions tailored to your needs. With more than 1,400 lawyers in our U.S. and international offices and legal colleagues in over 40 countries around the world, Holland & Knight serves clients globally. Our clients recognize the ability of our firm to consistently provide excellent value in a variety of areas that range from commercial litigation, regulatory matters, mergers and acquisitions, real estate and government advocacy. With 27 offices around the globe, we are committed to providing the highest quality legal counsel combined with the utmost in client service – across state and national borders – in a seamless, cost-effective manner. This level of legal guidance, combined with our interdisciplinary structure and the firm’s global network, is your assurance of high-quality resources when and where you need them. Our lawyers are consistently recognized as leaders in the legal profession, earning accolades for service, responsiveness, results and pro bono commitment.

Company of the Week
Global Guardian

Global Guardian is a provider of world-class security solutions, custom-tailored to the individual needs of its global client base. The company offers an integrated suite of best-in-class security services that help clients identify and mitigate the risks of traveling and doing business both overseas and domestically. Global Guardian’s management and advisory team are comprised of highly experienced former military special operations and federal law enforcement personnel and seasoned business professionals. The group’s diverse background ensures both a high level of subject matter expertise on the global security climate and the changing needs of businesses working and traveling internationally. Our local security teams are carefully vetted to assure integrity, capabilities, and compliance with all applicable international and local laws and regulations. Our due diligence process is the most extensive in the industry and includes strict insurance and employee screening requirements, initial and ongoing operational readiness and capability testing, extensive sustainment training, bilingual speakers, and 24-hour operational capabilities; among other aspects.

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Our CONVERGE BLOG focuses on legal, safety, and security challenges for Hospitality, Travel, Travel Vendors and Corporate Travel Buyers as individuals and businesses.
Our blog features exclusive content from our contributors, who collectively represent the full spectrum of hospitality law, risk management and comprehensive duty of care solutions.

The New Breed of Business Traveller

The business traveller after Covid-19 will be very different. Not only will their travel be subject to new restrictions and safety measures, they will also look different. That’s because we’re likely to see a significant shift in the demographic of people who travel for business. Why and what is the impact of this? Emanuele Scansani from travel risk intelligence experts Riskline explores further.

The huge uptake of virtual meetings as a result of the Covid-19 crisis has prompted both individuals and businesses to reconsider the need for face to face meetings. Employees want – as much as possible – to hold on to some of the work life balance they enjoyed during lockdown restrictions and may also have health and safety concerns around resuming travel. 

From a business perspective, savings from the near-zero travel expenses in these months will not go unnoticed in a time when many businesses are looking to save costs and resources. Combine this with the high capability of virtual technologies to create a near-perfect remote experience, and it’s likely that the necessity of business travel will be scrutinised more closely. A compelling – and detailed – business case will need to be put forward to justify business travel within a company.

Gone are the days of uninformed travel

Employees will demand a whole new level of information before and during their travel in order to feel confident enough to travel. Once they step on to a plane and travel internationally, businesses will need to strictly monitor the slew of new measures that will be in place – many of which have not yet even been decided – imposed by governments, corporate health & safety, travel insurance and by corporate travel policy managers. Travel policies will need to adapt to ensure travel is executed well within these new parameters. Business travel will have to be tightly planned and controlled with duty of care a priority both for the individual and the business.

The changing demographic of the business traveller

Recent research has shown that senior business travellers in particular are keen to see a high level of health and safety practices in place before they travel again post Covid-19. Baby Boomers (that’s those born between 1944 and 1964) want to see more stringent travel safety protocols. Nearly 70% want to see passenger health screenings at airports, compared with less than half of millennials, according to a survey by Destination’s Analysts. The report also shows that 66% of Boomers want to see cleaning protocols, published compared to just 48% of millennials. 

If we safely assume then that without safety measures in place, senior business travellers are unlikely to want to travel, then this may pose a problem for businesses. Why? Older employees tend to be more senior within the business and often among the key decision makers. If a business decides to restrict travel to selected employees, then surely it’s the older members of staff who need to travel – to meet face to face and have the authority to make key decisions on the spot?

With research indicating that Boomers are unwilling to travel post Covid-19, it’s also possible that companies may not want older employees to travel either, because of the risk they pose – there’s the potential cost impact on repatriation and health care to consider. A company may well look to undertake a “fit for travel” health check on staff before they travel and choose to send only those who pass with a clean bill of health. However, this process is far from straight forward. There’s a minefield of legal and privacy concerns surrounding this. An employer cannot force an employee to disclose information about any health conditions, but an employer can ask about a medical condition if it’s thought that the condition might affect the employee’s ability to do their job.

This is where we’ll see the rise of the millennial business traveller. Not only are they more willing to travel, they’re also arguably more likely to pass any health tests carried out before travel as they’re within the age range that’s deemed ‘less affected’ by Covid-19. And there are many of them. Before coronavirus gripped the world, millennials were fast becoming the predominant business traveller, taking an average of 7.4 trips per year (according to Skift) against the average of 6.3 trips per year by boomers. We’re only like to see this upward trend solidify in the months and years ahead, particularly when taking into consideration the pent-up demand to travel as a result of recent restrictions.

Millennial business travellers, many of whom will have yet to progress to senior positions, may also see business travel as an opportunity to demonstrate their merits and further their careers. They’re also keen on mixing business and pleasure, often extend the corporate trip into a personal one. This may be even more so after restrictions are lifted due to sheer pent-up demand, people who love to travel have been unable to do so for such an extended period. These co-called “bleisure” travellers will still have concerns about health and safety and will be asking new questions around where their business insurance ends, and their personal travel insurance begins.

Businesses need to be prepared and ensure they have the right information available in order to give this new breed of business traveller the detail they need to travel safely in this new world.

Emanuele Scansani, Director of Partnerships & Strategic Relations at Riskline, is delivering a session From Wuhan to Barcelona: How Social Resilience and Social Laxity Impact Business Travel – at The Global Travel Risk Summit Europ

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Cannabis and Hemp: Up in Smoke? How the Hospitality Industry Can Avoid Traps for the Unwary

The director of your spa program calls, noting that your top competitor is offering CBD-infused massages. Your marketing team wants to engage in “Canna-Tourism,” encouraging guests to visit the property because it is within walking distance of a hot new dispensary. And your F&B director has big plans for a new menu focusing on cannabis- and hemp-infused edibles and cocktails.

While cannabis and hemp present potentially lucrative opportunities for the hospitality industry, there are several traps for the unwary.

This article will identify some of those traps, and discuss how to avoid them:

  1. Trap 1: Imperiling Your Liquor License. For many in the hospitality industry, liquor serves as a significant source of revenue. In many states, though, it is illegal to sell or allow for the consumption of cannabis at a liquor-licensed premises. Further, some states do not distinguish between cannabis and hemp. In those states, offering hemp-based products and services can similarly jeopardize your liquor license. When in doubt, speak with your enforcement officer before launching any cannabis- or hemp-related activities at your liquor-licensed premises.
  2. Trap 2: Using Hemp in Foods and Beverages. Under the FDA’s current guidance, it is federally illegal to include CBD or THC in foods and beverages introduced into interstate commerce, even if hemp-derived. Many states follow the FDA’s guidance, even for foods and beverages that have not crossed state lines. So, consult with your counsel or a state regulator before using hemp in your foods and beverages.
  3. Trap 3: Accepting Percentage-Based Fees from a Cannabis Licensee. Some in the hospitality industry are exploring percentage-based fees from cannabis licensees. Examples include percentage-based advertising fees (e.g. advertising a local dispensary in the property’s marketing collateral, and then receiving a percentage of the dispensary’s sales) and percentage-based rent (e.g. leasing a portion of the premises to a cannabis licensee, and receiving percentage-based rent). Before accepting any percentage-based fees, it is important to examine applicable law. Pursuant to many states’ cannabis laws, anyone receiving a percentage of the licensed entity’s revenue must be disclosed, vetted and identified on the cannabis license. In most jurisdictions, the property can avoid these issues by accepting payments on a flat-fee basis, rather than a percentage-fee basis.
  4. Trap 4: Failing to Update Insurance Policies. Many insurance policies include robust exclusions for cannabis-related claims and, to a lesser extent, hemp-related claims. Before you offer cannabis- and hemp-related products and services, speak with your broker to confirm that your policy covers these activities.
  5. Trap 5: Failing to Appoint a Compliance Officer. We are in a period of rapid change in the cannabis and hemp industries. With that in mind, it is helpful to appoint a Compliance Officer to address all cannabis- and hemp-related activities for your company. In coordination with your Legal Department and/or outside counsel, the Compliance Officer is generally tasked with monitoring changes in state and federal laws, addressing any necessary changes to insurance policies, creating and timely updating company-wide cannabis and hemp policies, procedures and manuals, and reviewing all contracts touching cannabis and/or hemp. The Compliance Officer also provides ongoing training to ensure that all employees have up-to-date knowledge of the applicable requirements.

Good luck!

This article contains educational information necessarily of a general nature that cannot be construed as legal advice.

This article is part of our Conference Materials Library and has a PowerPoint counterpart that can be accessed in the Resource Libary.® provides numerous resources to all sponsors and attendees of The Hospitality Law Conference: Series 2.0 (Houston and Washington D.C.). If you have attended one of our conferences in the last 12 months you can access our Travel Risk Library, Conference Materials Library, ADA Risk Library, Electronic Journal, Rooms Chronicle and more, by creating an account. Our libraries are filled with white papers and presentations by industry leaders, hotel and restaurant experts, and hotel and restaurant lawyers. Click here to create an account or, if you already have an account, click here to login.

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Houston Restaurateur, Tony Vallone Passes After a Full Life and Long Legacy

55-years of Excellence and Innovation in Food and Service

Houston, Texas- September 10, 2020– It is with heavy hearts we share the passing of Houston Restaurateur, Tony Vallone. The country has lost one of the greatest mentors, chefs, and restaurateurs. Tony’s legacy will continue on with his restaurant, Tony’s in Greenway Plaza and Tony’s Catering. 

Tony always said “I’m going out with pasta in one hand and fish in the other,” an ode to his passion and adoration for cuisine. Tony passed along that passion to many throughout the city and country and served as a mentor for his Executive Chef Austin Waiter, General Manager Eric Pryor and his devoted team past and present- some of whom worked with Tony for 40-plus years. 

Tony’s wish was for the restaurant to continue, and Donna Vallone alongside Tony’s staff and family will honor that wish and his legacy with normal business operations after a brief closure from Thursday, September 10 to Monday, September 14th reopening on Tuesday, September 15th. 

Donna Vallone, Tony’s wife of 36 years and partner stated “I’ve lost the love of my life and best friend, but I will continue Tony’s legacy.” 

Many were impacted by Tony’s vigor for the restaurant industry and learned from his dedication to excellence, innovation and attention to detail. Tony strived to provide every guest with an experience of excellence in food and service and Chef Austin Waiter, General Manager Eric Pryor and the integral team will carry on his renowned legacy. 

A memorial service will be held at a later date and there will be more details to come in regards to memoriam donations. 


Tony’s For more than 55 years Tony’s has served the Houston community and beyond. Tony’s is renowned for excellence in food and service made with the best quality ingredients. Tony’s presents fine dining Italian inspired by Naples, influenced by Milan and cherished in Houston.

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Virtual Kidnapping

Travel data and personal information have become more accessible, making virtual kidnappings increasingly common. Although these threats can be difficult to avoid or detect, a proper risk plan can help prepare for such a situation.

What is Virtual Kidnapping

In a virtual kidnapping, the most common circumstances are that a demand is made, almost always over the phone, but there is no actual hostage-taking to accompany it. The demand is made to the family, or even a company on the pretext that the person or virtual hostage (most often a relative) has been kidnapped and is under threat.

This crime had its origins in Mexican prisons with prisoners carrying out multiple calls and requesting ransoms to pay for their phone credit. The crime has since become more widespread with cases throughout Latin America, the USA, and Asia, but the ‘scam’ can be so successful that examples could occur anywhere.

Most recently the scam has become much more sophisticated, with criminals using robocall technology and spoofing software to make it appear that they are calling from your relative’s phone number.

The success of a virtual kidnap depends on the victim being unable to prove or disprove the well-being of the purported hostage until the ransom has been paid. As it is unlikely that the virtual hostage will remain uncontactable or cooperative for very long, this type of kidnapping also tends to move very quickly and involves smaller sums that are to be paid by some form of wire transfer. However, in these most recent cases, the sums involved were significant running into millions of dollars.

Chinese Students Targeted in Recent Virtual Kidnapping Events in Australia

In this most recent group of incidents, it was reported that ”kidnappers” or remote actors persuaded several Chinese students in Australia to cut off all contact with their family, rent hotel rooms, and then fake their own kidnapping. They were then told to take photographs of themselves pretending to be tied up and threatened with knives.

It is possible in these Australian cases that there may have been some background research carried out beforehand, but the overwhelming majority are “robocalls.” Reports by the authorities suggest the criminals were calling from an offshore location targeting anyone with Chinese names; they chanced upon a vulnerable group and, realizing the method was successful, it would appear they repeated it.

Virtual Kidnapping Modus Operandi

Virtual kidnappers can have several ways of operating, including collusion with other accomplices, but most are made using “robocall” software making vast numbers of calls. The range of cases and methodologies used by the virtual kidnappers are very wide and are limited only by their imagination.

In some instances, the kidnappers will target individuals staying at a hotel, or as in the Australian cases, students studying at universities abroad. The reports from this case suggest that these individuals were contacted randomly by gangs operating from robocall centres offshore based on their having Chinese names. In some rare cases, the victim is kept under observation by the offenders, but more likely accomplices have passed on the victim’s contact information and other personal details. Other cases involve kidnappers targeting a particular location and occupation, such as all doctors in San Antonio, Texas.

The virtual kidnappers need to rely on the lack of preparedness and naivete of victims to cooperate in their plans. These latest victims did not appear to be prepared for the virtual kidnap calls and seem not to have discussed the possibility of such calls with their families. Their families also had limited means to contact them or establish that they were not actually in danger. The reports also suggested that the kidnappers pretended to be from the Chinese authorities and threatened harm to their families in China unless they cooperated and helped their families pay “fines.” The ever-present threat from Chinese authorities likely made convincing the students somewhat easier. Similar storylines have been used in Latin America where public corruption is extremely high.

Often, as in these cases, the victim will be threatened over the phone to stay in their room and not answer any calls or make any contact with family or friends. Through these and other threats, such as telling them “we are watching you” and “we have a man outside your door,” they were coerced to provide their next of kin details and cooperate by taking pictures of themselves tied up and in apparent danger. Using spoofing software, which changes the telephone number you are calling from to any number you like, the abductors mimicked a call to relatives using the victim’s telephone number and issued their threats and demands. In some instances, the kidnappers may pretend to be from the local police and ask you to pay a fine or make a special payment for your loved one’s release, “before it is too late.” A general theme will be the necessity for speed to encourage you to cooperate before you or the “victim” discover the scam.

Travel and Hospitality Workers Facilitate Risk

Hotel staff and travel agents have also been known to tip off criminal gangs when the soon-to-be virtual hostage is in a location where they are unlikely to be contacted, for example in a hotel pool, sleeping in their room, or in the cinema, theatre, nightclub, or on a transatlantic flight. The kidnappers will put in a demand for an easily affordable ransom based on the pretext of having kidnapped them and will provide the relatives some personal information, and threaten the relative with the sound of someone pretending to be their loved one being tortured in the background of the call.

Travel Data and Social Media Provide Prime Information to Abductors

Personal identifying information (PII) is often readily available in travel bookings data and hotel rewards programs or memberships. In many cases, PII is exposed publicly on social media profiles, including details about locations, clothing being worn, food preferences, friends, and selfies. These details provide ample information to create a believable story about an abduction and to demand a ransom payment.

Who’s at Risk?

Most virtual kidnappings involve the “robocall” approach, so almost anyone could be targeted, which is why prior preparation and understanding the scam is so important. More recently the level of sophistication has increased with reports of kidnappers using trade directories, and other directories including memberships of clubs, professions, and specific locations. At its simplest form, anyone could receive a random call with the sound of someone screaming, relying on the caller to panic and cooperate with the often-terrifying threats of harm.

Mitigating Virtual Kidnap Risk

Avoiding virtual kidnaps is very simple but does require a little amount of pre-planning and discussion before you travel.

  1. Conduct a pre-travel assessment to understand the risk of virtual kidnapping in your area or destinations.
  2. Discuss the potential for virtual kidnaps with staff and with family and friends before they travel. Decide on identity codes, phrases, or obscure details that your family or friends can ask for if they are contacted and told you are a hostage. Explain about the spoofing of numbers.
  3. Keep in regular contact with family and friends when traveling. Provide your family with several ways of getting in touch with you while traveling, including hotel phone, email, and texts. Always keep your phone on you.
  4. Be suspicious of hotel staff and requests for information.
  5. If you are the potential victim and are being directed to stay in your room and to not contact anyone, do not cooperate. Move quickly to another hotel or location in case your hotel was compromised and inform your family of your movements and whereabouts immediately. Remember these are “robocalls” from another country and rely on you not thinking the threat through or becoming panicked.
  6. As a family member try and reach out to the alleged victim by any means possible.
  7. Do not blurt out a loved one’s name if called or share personal information.
  8. As they rely on your panic, try to slow everything down and ask for proof that your loved one is there and okay.
  9. Finally, if you suspect a genuine kidnapping, immediately call the authorities, such as the FBI in the US, the NCA in the UK or the BKA in Germany.

Finally, we have discussed this before, but it bears repeating: keeping your publicly available personal information to a minimum is key, especially when linked to your travel. Post by all means, but post after your travel has ended!


Garry Vardon-Smith, Special Risks Practice Lead

Garry Vardon-Smith has been a WorldAware employee for nearly ten years, serving in various crisis management roles. In his new role as Special Risks Practice Lead, Garry will lead and manage WorldAware’s global Kidnap for Ransom and Extortion teams. Garry is a former senior British police officer and graduate of the FBI National Academy. Based in the USA, Garry brings over 20 years of extensive crisis management experience, including leading on national critical incident issues for the UK. Garry has previously served as the lead advisor for crisis management to the British Embassy in Baghdad and was a member of the U.S. State Department’s Office for Hostage Affairs. His extensive experience in managing kidnap response includes providing crisis management, special risk training and intelligence management leadership for NGOs in Iraq, as well as in other Middle East and South Asian countries. His commercial experience includes over 11 years helping major international insurance carriers and their clients manage duty of care issues for their traveling employees, new business ventures and travel risk responses globally.

Garry holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in adult education and a Master of Science degree in business continuity and security management, he is a member of the Business Continuity Institute, ASIS and is a Fellow of the Institute of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

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