Whether it’s keeping cranky toddlers busy or trying to impress moody teens, sometimes travelling with children can be tough. That’s why an increasing number of companies are offering child-friendly holidays – where kids’ pools, outdoor activities and baby-sitting services offer beleaguered parents the hope of a hassle-free stay.
But if we look outside the hotel grounds and consider the impact of tourism on the children who live in the destinations we visit, would we still be comfortable labelling these holidays as family-friendly?
Judging by the debate on child protection at last week’s World Travel Market exhibition, it is clear that the industry continues to make significant efforts to shine a spotlight on the issue of child sexual exploitation. But beyond this, what’s really needed now is a broader approach to considering children’s welfare in the context of responsible tourism. Here are five steps that Unicef UK recommends businesses can take to improve the lives of children in our favourite holiday spots:
1. Pay staff a living wage. Tourism is a fantastic job creator. The sector employs over 100 million people worldwide and as many as 265 million people indirectly. The huge supply of jobs that require little or no formal training are especially attractive to young people and women. But average wages in tourism rarely constitute a living wage, meaning that workers don’t earn enough to cover their own basic needs and that of their families. For children, this often means missing out on education, medical treatment or nutritious meals and can, in some cases, contribute to children looking for ways to support family income.
2. Address the root causes of child labour
According to the International Labour Organisation, there are 13-19 million children working in an occupation tied to tourism – from selling goods on beaches to carrying the luggage of holidaymakers at transportation hubs or working as waiters in local restaurants.
Child labour, however, also exists well beyond the bustling centres of tourist activity in the sector’s vast and complex supply chains. Ensuring decent work for adults, developing tourism activities that improve the livelihoods of local people and working with local authorities to strengthen child protection systems are key actions that can help address the root causes of child labour.
More could also be done to encourage appropriate formal work or training for 15-17 year olds. That depends on businesses receiving a clear list from Government of the tourism-related jobs that 15-17 year olds could do safely.
3. Improve working conditions for mothers
Women make up the majority of the tourism workforce yet tend to be concentrated in the lowest paid, lowest status jobs with inadequate maternity protections. Children are particularly affected by rotating schedules and unsocial and irregular working hours that are common in the sector. A more flexible approach to working hours for young mums would be one way to address this, as well as ensuring that appropriate cover is in place so that employees do not have to work longer hours without prior warning.
Companies could also support new mums in providing the best start in life for their children by offering a place to breastfeed and/or express milk. It’s difficult to think of a business better-suited to providing an appropriate room for employees to breastfeed than a hotel.
4. Support the provision of child care and after-school activities
Children whose parents work long and irregular hours and cannot access or afford child care may have to travel home from school alone to look after themselves and/or their siblings, leaving them extremely vulnerable to injury, neglect and abuse. These risks can be heightened for children living in popular tourist destinations that suffer from higher levels of alcohol consumption, prostitution, gambling, drug abuse, noise, crime and an influx of strangers.
Companies can help create safe environments for the children of their employees by supporting efforts to subsidise the cost of day-care, providing a company crèche to staff or increasing investments in local youth and sports clubs.
5. Undertake human & child rights due diligence
All of this must be underpinned by concerted effort by companies to understand how children living in tourist destinations are affected – positively and negatively – by their business operations and supply chains. This means talking to the individuals and groups that represent children and even talking to children directly in some cases. The Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Foundation, working with Unicef UK, have done precisely this in Mexico to understand how the global hospitality industry affects children and their families. The Foundation will publish a report early next year that will highlight the key issues and recommendations for the industry.
As one of the the largest and most dynamic sectors in the global economy, tourism has the potential to improve the lives of millions of children. Making better places to live in, not just better places to visit, is a sector imperative.