“Without safe children and communities – there is no sustainable tourism!”¹
For World Tourism Day 2023, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) called upon the international community to redefine the direction of tourism investments with the objective to improve support for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. It highlighted the need for more and better-targeted investments for People, Planet, and Prosperity.²
Children are key stakeholders that must see the benefits and opportunities from the development of the tourism sector. Investments for People directs the industry to education and upscaling skills that create working opportunities, as the global tourism workforce will require millions of hospitality graduates between now and 2030 as well as workers with specific vocational training.³ While education and the creation of a workforce are necessary for the development of industry and provide job opportunities, the concept of investment for people goes beyond these considerations – it must protect children’s rights and benefit local communities to be truly sustainable.
The travel and tourism sector can play a leading role in accelerating the 2030 Agenda, acting as a bridge between economic growth, environmental conservation, and social development. The sector can provide significant benefits to local communities by creating job opportunities, ensuring decent work, preserving cultural heritage, tackling poverty and discrimination, and developing infrastructure – all when investing in child and social protection services.⁴
The travel and tourism industry can maximise current and future opportunities and profits by contributing to social development, mitigating risks and reducing possible negative impacts. The encounter between large numbers of travelers and tourists with local communities and children can bring disruptions in the local contexts and make children vulnerable to abuse, particularly when protective environments are fragile, legislations inadequate and their enforcement poor. The industry has the duty and responsibility to conduct due diligence, identify and address risks and impacts on children and take appropriate measures to ensure that through their services, structures and value chains they are not causing or contributing to any child rights violation.
This means ensuring, among others, that only responsible and safe forms of travel and tourism that benefit children and local communities should be undertaken, which requires among others regulating the phenomena of voluntourism with and for children by countries sending and receiving voluntourists, and prohibiting the visits to orphanages.⁵ There is a need to ensure that local authorities, including social and child protection services, law enforcement, private sector, communities, and children themselves – engaged ethically and meaningfully – work together to maximize opportunities to benefit from tourism, while preventing and addressing the sexual exploitation of children.
The world is not on track to end all forms of violence against children or keep the commitments made under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in this regard. There is an urgent need to rethink what it means to make travel and tourism sustainable: the actions aimed to this end must incorporate interventions aimed at preventing violence against children, given the interlinked nature of the Sustainable Development Goals and the definition of sustainable tourism according with the Framework Convention on Tourism Ethic.⁶
With this Call for Action, echoing recommendations from the two UN reports on child protection in travel and tourism, including on the phenomena of voluntourism presented to the UN General Assembly on 5th October 2023⁷, we urge all stakeholders, including States, civil society, the private sector, communities, and individuals to work towards the effective protection of children from all forms of exploitation in travel and tourism context, and investing in children as the only path to ensuring that travel and tourism delivers its promise of sustainable development.
Co-signed by ECPAT International, PACT and the Down to Zero Alliance.