Tragically, it continues to happen around the world, but one organization — and increasingly the meetings industry — is shedding light on child sex tourism and shutting down its operations.
“We work really closely with hotels and major companies like Carlson [Wagonlit Travel],” said Sarah Porter, director of development and partnerships for ECPAT-USA (Ending Child Prostitution and Trafficking). “But what’s really interesting is to see,” Porter added, “is how the meetings industry has gotten involved.”
The connection between conventions and corporate events and child sex tourism wasn’t initially clear even to Porter herself, who joined ECPAT-USA two years ago. She said it was eye-opening to realize that “when you talk about the meetings industry,” they have “all those additional eyes and ears on the ground.” Now, when she speaks to meeting planners about this issue, “so many people come up to us and say, ‘Wow, I really understand that I have a role to play.'”
In its continuing efforts to raise awareness in the meetings industry, ECPAT-USA hosted its first “Advocacy Journey” to Thailand in November. The trip was structured to give travel professionals the opportunity to experience Thailand’s culture while seeing first-hand the work that local organizations are doing to protect children from exploitation. (Look for me to write about two Maritz Travel employees’ experiences as trip participants in our April issue.) ECPAT-USA is accepting applicants for a second Advocacy Journey — May 27–31, 2016 to Cartagena, Colombia — and for a third, a return trip to Thailand, in November. Those interested can email Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ecpatusa.org/journeys/ for more details.
Meanwhile, there’s something that meeting organizers can do now to increase awareness and to encourage their hotel partners to stand behind efforts to combat child trafficking: Include specific language in their RFPs. Planners can ensure that hotel partners are combatting child trafficking by working with suppliers that have signed on to The Code, The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation. Members play an essential role in protecting children from the sexual exploitation that is prevalent in the tourism industry and which overlaps with the business-events industry.
Porter shared sample RFP language travel buyers and meeting organizers can include:
The travel industry plays a prominent role as an enabler to criminals who transport and sell child and adult trafficking victims. The trafficking of women and children occurs in the United States.
1. Are you aware of this growing problem as it relates to the use of hotels by criminals for this activity? Yes No N/A
2. Does your company have a policy against human trafficking? Yes No N/A
3. Does your hotel train employees to identify and report suspicious instances where child trafficking might be occurring on your property? Yes No N/A
4. Has your company signed on to the ECPAT-USA Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct (www.thecode.org, www.ecpatusa.org) Yes No N/A
5. ECPAT-USA can help travel suppliers in raising awareness of the trafficking of women and children. Would you be interested in knowing more about the Code of Conduct and how you can actively participate in fighting this growing crime? Yes No N/A