UNWTO on child exploitation: Nothing more than lip service?

ProtectTourism leaders around the world are pledging support to this initiative, and many voices of support have been heard over several years by a large contingency of world leaders and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Alain St.Ange, the outspoken Seychelles Minister of Tourism and Culture, talked with UNWTO Wire on behalf of the newly-started Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Organization on the topic of child exploitation in tourism.

Q: You were the founding President of the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands – talk to us about your stand on child exploitation in tourism

Alain St.Ange: “It is sad that in this day and age, we are still talking about child exploitation, but the fact remains that this practice is still being promoted in different parts of the world and in different surroundings. As a region with tourism as its key industry, the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands condemns child exploitation in tourism. Tourism is a people’s industry and remains an industry where respect must always be seen as the guiding strategy. The beautiful pictures of our dream islands would be artificial if underneath the surface, our innocent children were being exploited.”

Q: Do you personally condemn child exploitation in all its forms?

 “To this pointed question, I simply answer with an unequivocal, “YES,” and I invite every Minister of Tourism to also openly make this statement.”

What has the  World Tourism Network on Child Protection   formerly the UNWTO Task Group against exploitation of children through tourism been doing over the many years this group has been in place?

eTN Publisher Juergen Steinmetz has been a member of this task group for almost a decade. He said: “We first had our task group meeting once a year in London during the World Travel Market (WTM), and once a year in Berlin during ITB. Several years ago, however, this was reduced to one yearly meeting during ITB only.

 “All of us are dedicated volunteers or government officials and believe in this cause. I always  paid my own way to travel to the other side of the world for this annual meeting, and donated my time, because I believed in this cause. I am sure this is the case with everyone else in our international group. “

“It is important for UNWTO as a United Nations agency to endorse and support the many global initiatives to fight this crime. Unfortunately, besides small talk, some excellent presentations, and a lot of lip service by UNWTO leaders, there has not been anything done by this group yet to be proud of.

For the last 5 years, this task group has been promised a budget of $5,000 to be used to showcase best practices on the official UNWTO website.  Another proposed initiative was to establish a communication tool allowing  task group members  to communicate with other members of the group and to UNWTO officials.  It has never been established. The webpage on unwto.org also was never established. The excuse:  There is no staff and no money to maintain such an initiative. ”

Steinmetz went on to say: ” I applaud for UNWTO to hold this meeting, and to join THE CODE, but a lot more has to be done together with member countries, the World Travel and Tourism Council, (WTTC)  PATA, ETOA and other credited leaders of our wonderful and money making industry.”

 “I brought in this initiative, and it was seconded by every member of our group. Yet, here we are 5 years later, and still no funds have been made available so that we can move forward. Every year, I publicly voiced my criticism and confusion about the role of our  UNWTO Task group, only to receive no response whatsoever. And then another year would go by, and we would be meeting at ITB again a year later in the same starting position, with no progress having been made.”

 “Let us hope that ITB 2016 will mark not only 50 years ITB Berlin and a showcase of this billion-dollar travel industry, but also the beginning for UNWTO to finally put some resources behind this initiative and allow this task group to at the very least endorse some positive initiatives that can shared with the world. Incredibly, this task group has been in existence for 31 meetings, and this situation is quite embarrassing  and shows it’s definitely not a priority by the UNWTO leadership as always proclaimed.”

“I will not be part of this group in 2017, if after the conclusion of ITB 2016, we don’t hear anything again for another full year. Protecting our children should be a top priority for the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the governments that make up this global group. i don’t think $5000.00 should stand in the way to endorse  and share so many excellent activities by private groups, governments, police to combat this crime. I don’t want our industry to conspire with those that target our children for unspeakable acts committed within our great industry. A billion tourists and  finding $5000.00 is not possible – this cannot be true.”

Even worse, entire industries had been absent from these meetings. For example, the billion Dollar Cruise Industry didn’t want to have any part of it and none of the cruise companies had any desire to include one of them to join the UNWTO Task Group.”

UNWTO Wire has reached out to UNWTO officials for comments, but so far no response has been received.

UNWTO will  hold the 31st meeting of the World Tourism Network on Child Protection (March 10), when an initiative will take place to prevent all forms of child and youth exploitation in the tourism sector. Under the chairmanship of Carol Bellamy, the Chair of the Network and former Executive Director of UNICEF, the meeting will focus on Responsible Business Strategies and Child Protection in Tourism, highlighting the good practices championed by the tourism industry. The event will feature interventions from ABTA, TUI Group, and the Chair of the high-level global Task Force for the  Protection of Children in Tourism, Najat Maalla M’jid, who will share the results of the Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism.