Helping to protect children from exploitation has been a core commitment of global adventure travel company, Intrepid Travel, since they began operating trips in South East Asia in 1989. They are operating in more than 120 countries across the world and are taking almost 100,000 travellers on trips every year. Child Safe Tourism (CST) spoke to Intrepid’s Responsible Travel Manager, Jane Crouch (JC), to find out what drives them to make child protection a key priority in the way they operate.
CST: How did Intrepid come to be so proactive on child protection matters?
JC: From the earliest days of Intrepid’s operations, our local staff, particularly our group leaders (who now number more than 300 in Asia), saw the vulnerability of children in tourism destinations and witnessed some very concerning behaviour from foreigners, some of whom would unfortunately exploit them. They often observed young children working in vulnerable situations, such as:
- selling flowers, postcards and trinkets in Vietnam.
- begging on the streets in Laos.
- working in nightclubs in renowned prostitution areas in Thailand.
- performing shows for tourists in ‘orphanages’ in Cambodia.
As Intrepid staff became increasingly familiar and friendly with these local children they began to better understand their challenges. They became eager to help create a better tourism environment for them – to ensure local children benefited from tourism, rather than perpetuate their existing predicaments. Ultimately, tourism should be beneficial to both the visitor and the host communities, and the safety and future of children is an integral element of this relationship.
CST: How does Intrepid support the work of child protection organisations in the region?
JC: Intrepid Travel has collaborated with NGOs in the region that focus on child protection, such as ECPAT (Child Wise), ChildSafe (Friends International) and Project Childhood (World Vision). These organisations have provided insights into the enormity of the problem, and also suggested ways in which Intrepid could help,resulting in incredible mutual value for both the NGOs and Intrepid. We are able to transfer donations, foster publicity, facilitate links into the travel industry and distribute educational materials to travellers. In return, they have been able to provide training to our staff, as well as expert advice and guidance on the issue of child exploitation and how we can help protect children.
CST: How do you engage Intrepid travellers on the issue of child exploitation and empower them to be proactive in creating a safer tourism environment?
JC: We pass on the knowledge and information we have learnt onto our customers, so they can make the most informed choices. During our trips we teach them how to be responsible travellers and take them to businesses and other social enterprises that support vulnerable youth and families.
Visiting orphanages has also become a common request from customers in recent years. These queries are often well-intended but show a lack of awareness and knowledge about the negative effects that orphanage tours can have on the children. So Intrepid uses these opportunities to educate travellers on what they should and shouldn’t do in regards to interactions with local vulnerable children.
CST: How do you train Intrepid staff on these sensitive matters?
JC: Since 1999 Intrepid has been training staff in Southeast Asia on how to protect children from abuse, especially those living and working in tourism destinations. This training supports the responsibility we take on acting and reporting by teaching our group leaders what to do when they notice suspicious behaviour.
We have been able to incorporate the key lessons from this training into our group leader training all around the world. This awareness has lead to Intrepid staff making several reports to local authorities and the Australian Federal Police.
We have also instituted formal policies around our groups visiting any schools and other children’s institutions, including orphanages. This policy has helped give our staff and travellers an understanding of the more constructive ways to help local vulnerable children. One avenue offered is that Intrepid travellers can donate to well vetted children’s organisations through The Intrepid Foundation. This way they can be assured that their support is getting to where it can be best used.
CST: What’s next on Intrepid’s priority list for protecting children?
JC: We are very eager to find additional organisations to partner with in other parts of the world where we know kids are susceptible to exploitation in tourism – particularly in Africa, Myanmar and Latin America. Just as with NGOs in Asia, they can train staff on child protection issues and help educate customers and provide ‘eyes and ears’ to look out for the local children.