UNWTO’s decision for ITB is not without victims: Children abused through tourism

The activities of the World Tourism Network on Child Protection are co-ordinated by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretariat and monitored by an Executive Committee established in November 2000. At least members of this executive commettee thought this was the case.

The World Tourism Network on Child Protection is an open-ended network featuring the multi-stakeholder participation of a range of tourism stakeholders, from governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to tourism industry groups and media associations. Originally formed in 1997, since 2007 its mandate has been to prevent all forms of youth exploitation in the tourism sector (i.e. sexual exploitation, child labor and child trafficking).

This executive committee was not consulted when on February 6, 2018 Marina Diotallevi, head of Ethics and Social Responsibility of UNWTO informed the same members in a letter saying, the Secretariat is currently immersed in the process of revising the approach and strategy given to UNWTO World Tourism Network on Child Protection in order to reinforce its effectiveness and scope.

This is all a good approach, but the next sentence in the letter saying: ”For this reason, we are envisaging a new formula for this activity, it has been decided not to carry out the meeting of the UNWTO World Tourism Network on Child Protection, or its Executive Committee, in March 2018 at ITB Berlin as customary.

Change of the system is long overdue and good. Juergen Steinmetz, publisher of this newswire and chairman of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) has been a decade-long member of the committee and many times openly voiced his criticism and concern. Today he said: “ This move by the new UNWTO leadership is very surprising and disrespectful to the dedicated members of our executive committee. It would have been great to use the time everyone had planned for this important annual meeting in Berlin to discuss a new approach going forward. It would have been even better if the new Secretary General could have shown some personal interest and attend such a meeting. Instead of attending he canceled this meeting altogether.”

“Dictating a cancellation of this meeting without the input of the very same executive committee that is in charge of monitoring Child Protection activities at UNWTO is outrageous.  Every year we show good practices at our public event at ITB. Not giving this exposure and this chance for those that had prepared all year to speak at the event at ITB is more than disappointing. Not given countries, organizations meeting in Berlin from around the globe to engage and discuss this widespread problem of child abuse in tourism is scandalous.  “

When Steinmetz asked Dorothy Rozga, Executive Director of ECPAT International the response was.: “ I am trying to understand what is behind the decision. There may be more to this than meets the eye.” ECPAT is an essential member of the UNWTO Executive committee and an authority in the world when it comes to child protection.

A scene of the past?

ECPAT’s 102 members in 93 countries have one common mission: To eliminate the sexual exploitation of children. ECPAT was recently honored by INTERPOL for fighting sexual exploitation of children.

Dorothy Rozga was a speaker at the UNWTO General Assembly in September 2017, conducted in Chengdu, China.  This was organized by former UNWTO Secretary General Dr. Taleb Rifai.

Dr. Rifai had said: There is a bright and black side to tourism; we need to recognize the black side exists and address it with no shame. We need zero tolerance to any form of child exploitation. We cannot allow the tourism infrastructure to be used for this and shouldn’t have any issues in exposing such situations.”

As of January 1, 2018, a new person is running the UNWTO as secretary general. This person is  Zurab Pololikashvili, the former Georgian Ambassador to Spain.

From the minute Mr. Pololikasvili took over communication with UNWTO became a challenge for this publication and most likely for many others, including for some in the UNWTO leadership like the members of the Executive committee for child protection.

A tourism minister who talked to eTN without wanting to be named thought this could be a move to eliminate critical media like eTurboNews or WorldTourismWire to be part of the UNWTO machinery. “I bet there will be no further meetings of the same executive committee.”

Several requests to UNWTO public relations to get an explanation why the ITB meeting was canceled without input by the committee remain unresponded to.

It’s not the only mystery these days at UNWTO in Madrid. Decisions on who is actually leading the organization are remaining a secret and announcements are circulated after weeks of a delay.

The Child Protection Network’s meetings were held annually at the ITB trade and travel show in Berlin. The 3-hour event always served as a platform for key actors to exchange experiences and best practices, present awareness-raising materials, and capacity building tools, and promote the adoption of professional codes of conduct or other responsible practices in line with the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism.

Carol Bellamy, Chair of the (UNWTO) World Network on Child Protection explained in a 2013 interview:

Here is what happened last year in March 2017.

The 2017 meeting was chaired by Carol Bellamy

H.E. Najib Balala, Minister of Tourism of Kenya
Widad Sherman, Chief of Staff, Ministry of Tourism, Kenya
Tokiaritefy Rabeson, General Director of Tourism Development, Ministry of Tourism, Madagascar
Khin Than Win, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Myanmar
Zeyar Myo Aung, Director, Tourism Promotion, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Myanmar
Magdalena Montero, Adviser to the Minister of Tourism of Uruguay and Representative of the Regional Task Force for the Protection of Children in Travel and Tourism of the Americas (GARA)
Law Enforcement
Mohamed Basheer, Chief Inspector, Head of Family and Child Protection Department, Maldives Police Service
Private sector
Arnaud Herrmann, VP Sustainable Development, Accor Hotels
Andreas Mueseler, Chairman of the Sustainability Committee, German Travel Association (DRV)
Nikki White, Head of Destinations and Sustainability, ABTA
Elise Allart, Manager of Sustainable Development, TUI Benelux & TUI Group 2

Civil Society/NGOs
Joanna Rubinstein, President & CEO, World Childhood Foundation USA
Dorothy Rozga, Executive Director, ECPAT International
Rosa Martha Brown, President and Founder of Infantia Foundation & International Federation of Executive Women in Travel (FIASEET), Mexico
Juergen Steinmetz, Publisher and President, eTurboNews
International Organizations
Beth Verhey, Senior Advisor, Children’s Rights and Business, UNICEF
Simon Steyne, Senior Adviser of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, ILO
UNWTO Secretariat
Márcio Favilla L. de Paula, Executive Director
Marina Diotallevi, Head, Ethics and Social Responsibility Programme
Igor Stefanovic, Senior Programme Assistant, Ethics and Social Responsibility
Ms. Alice Akunga, Country Representative, UNICEF Maldives

After welcoming remarks by Márcio Favilla L. de Paula, Executive Director, UNWTO, discussed was the upcoming special session at ITB 2017 entitled; Governments as champions of child protection in tourism

Uruguay presented best practices on Tourism and prevention of sexual exploitation of children in the Americas
The Modern Slavery Act and its implications for tourism industry stakeholders was introduced by ABTA. The Approach of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) had an interesting program among its members
Further discussed: Best practices by ExCom participants: Putting child protection in the context of the Int’l Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development / implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Advancing youth empowerment through travel and tourism: UNWTO/Amadeus/Government of Kenya pilot project in Nairobi