Three UK holiday companies have teamed up with Ecpat, the anti-child prostitution network, to devise a child protection initiative to tackle the sexual exploitation of children at overseas holiday resorts.
First Choice Holidays, Tui UK and the Gambia Experience are working with Ecpat to develop a training programme for their UK staff who work abroad as holiday reps. It will teach them to recognise and deal with potential and actual instances of exploitation.
The Travel Foundation, the industry-funded charity that promotes sustainable tourism, has agreed to fund the project for a year. It will be piloted in The Gambia.
Christine Beddoe, Ecpat director, said the project was designed to tackle exploitation by local people and sex tourists. "This is not just about identifying sex off-enders, but we can't ignore the fact that reps might become aware of, or be told of, offences against children," she said. "We need clear reporting procedures where there are cases or suspicions of abuse."
Beddoe hopes that awareness of the issue will trickle down to the travelling public. "If staff are better informed they will be more likely to share that information with clients," she said.
Jane Ashton, corporate social responsibility manager at First Choice, said that child exploitation had not been formally identified as a problem in any of the hotels First Choice uses, but said the company knew it to be a fast-growing area of international crime and wanted to play its part in trying to reduce it.
Ashton added that the nature of the crime meant it was committed covertly, so reps and customers might not recognise the signs.
Ashton is pressing the Federation of Tour Operators to ensure the social and environmental code of practice it is drawing up for its members includes measures to prevent child exploitation in contracted hotels.
Ecpat hopes other travel companies will become involved. First Choice is planning to extend the pilot to more of its destinations, including the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka and eastern European cities.