by Annamaria Ruffini, CIS | September 12, 2017
Travel and tourism is one of the world's largest industries. Sustained demand, together with its capability to generate high levels of employment, continue to prove the importance and value of the travel and tourism sector to global economic development and job creation. But along with its impressive growth, the effects of travel and tourism can have a high cost on the environment, natural resources, cultures, and societies. That is why the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has named 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism: "To raise awareness of the contribution of sustainable tourism, while mobilizing all stakeholders to work together in making tourism a catalyst for positive change."

Most large companies have a detailed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) code of conduct and apply these principles to the organization of meetings, events, and incentive travel. And, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Index confirms that CSR has become an integral component of incentive travel, with eight out of 10 programs including a CSR activity. Planners are able to organize low environmental impact events, and awareness and sensitivity has taught us to respect and support a destination's people, culture, and sites. However, there are still many societal impacts of travel and tourism that need to be addressed.

While environmental sustainability and green measures have reached high performance standards, the important issue of human rights is seldom talked about. Human trafficking is a critical issue affecting every corner of the world and is especially prevalent during major events such as the Olympics, World Cup, Super Bowl, and large meetings and conventions. This year, the UNWTO is expected to approve a new international convention on sustainable tourism, with the inclusion of provisions for the protection of children.

Weak child protection systems, cheap international travel and the Internet are thwarting efforts to counter the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. With the use of online classified ads, human trafficking has moved off the streets and behind the closed doors of hotels rooms. Women and children are targeted and manipulated by traffickers who transport victims from city to city via airlines and buses, and more than 80 percent of arrests take place in airports and hotels. Unfortunately, very few victims are identified and fewer still receive the help and services they need.

In 2015, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) identified this issue as a strategic priority and became a member of The Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct, an industry-driven, responsible-tourism initiative with a mission to provide awareness, tools and support in order to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. We also partnered with ECPAT -- a global network of organizations working together for the elimination of trafficking of children for sexual purposes -- to create educational materials and resources for our members and chapters. This is still an important priority and we continue to use our channels of communications and events to inform and educate members, suppliers, and customers about this critical issue and encourage their support for ECPAT's work around the globe.

As meeting and incentive travel professionals we can be the change. There are simple things we can do to help stop human trafficking by being aware of the issue, being vigilant when traveling, and training employees and clients on how to recognize and report suspicious activity. We can also include a clause in our RFPs and contracts stating a zero tolerance policy of child sex exploitation. Fighting child human trafficking goes hand in hand with running an ethical and responsible travel company and is an important pillar of CSR and responsible travel.

Annamaria Ruffini, CIS, is president-elect of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and president and CEO of Events In & Out S.R.L., in Rome, Italy. She is an expert on responsible and sustainable tourism practices and the author of the book Ecoeventi, published in 2009. The book, which focuses on the green approach to incentive travel and events received the prestigious Italian award, Premio Turismo Responsabile Italiano 2010.