The travel industry is inadvertently contributing to “internal human trafficking” in Cambodia by developing a view of responsible tourism which encourages travellers to visit and donate to orphanages.
Michael Horton, founder of Cambodian non-profit organisation ConCERT, launched a stinging rebuke on a day of debates about Responsible Tourism opened by Fairtrade Foundation executive director Harriet Lamb.
Horton said tourist visits to orphanages in Siem Reap were exacerbating the problem of child poverty, with some owners keeping children dirty and malnourished to encourage donations.
He also said that 72% of children in orphanages were not orphans but merely came from poor families, and described the movement of children across the country to institutions where tourists visit as “simply internal child trafficking”.
Instead, Horton urged delegates to develop an approach to responsible tourism which focused on community based-support and poverty reduction, and “not just providing a satisfying experience for paying guests”.
Horton’s views were echoed by responsible tourism expert Professor Harold Goodwin, who pledged his support for the campaign, and UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai, who said there must be a shift away from the concept of tourists as superior to local people who were seen as attractions.
Earlier in the day, Lamb opened the fifth World Responsible Tourism Day by calling on all travel companies to place responsible tourism on boardroom agendas.
“Maybe these tough times could be a chance for a radical rethink. This is the ideal time to be brave and innovative and take this vision for responsible tourism to the heart of your business,” she said.
Lamb said she hoped the launch of the first UK fair-trade holiday package to South Africa on Wednesday would be the “first building block” towards a certified fair-trade movement for travel.