Panel discussions go by fast and you don’t often have the chance of saying all you want to say. So, I’d like to further expand on a recent debate I participated in at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok.

As ASEAN benefits from a rapid influx of tourism, one key group often dismissed are backpackers. This is an interesting group to observe: they stay for longer periods of time in the country then say regular tourists and spend significant amounts of money, generally benefiting local businesses. They are also opening new tourist areas that can be further developed by more established tourism businesses. This means they have strong interactions with local populations that may not be ready and equipped to face this new opportunity and the risks attached. This is the situation Laos is currently facing and that Myanmar is going to face very soon.

Some of the risks involve children. In some cases, there are predators, using the pretense of travel and tourism, to specifically exploit children. Sometimes, children are arrested and detained to “clean up” tourist destinations from “undesirable” populations so as to please visitors. Tourists often come with the best intentions, but their generosity can put children at heightened risk.

This is why it is important to prepare both communities and travelers. Communities need to be able to get the full benefits of the tourism business. This requires training and support to develop tourist-oriented services. Communities must also be equipped to protect themselves and their children from risks. Being trained through the ChildSafe Network is such a tool that will allow them to collectively recognize when their children are at risk and know how to react.

Travelers also need to be made aware of the impact they can have on the local communities they are visiting and how they can reduce any negative impact and reinforce their positive impact. Becoming ChildSafe Travelers will allow them to achieve just that.

But for communities and children to benefit from all the positive impacts of tourism while reducing risks requires a strong coordination and partnership to be established between governments (that need to set up rules and standards), the corporate sector(to develop jobs while being mindful and pro-active in protecting the communities they are making business in) and NGOs. Only then will everyone get the most from this exciting and booming opportunity.



Author: Sebastien Marot, Executive Director, Friends-International, Cambodia; Regional Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Asia, 2009

Friends-International works to protect marginalized youth, providing them opportunity to become productive citizens. It offers a range of social services for children, young people, and their families, including education, vocational training, and job placement. To increase its impact, the organization has developed extensive community safety networks as well as partnerships with businesses working in travel and tourism. Friends also works in Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Egypt, Mexico, and Honduras. Read More