Thiruvananthapuram: Now that Responsible Tourism is acknowledged as a fine bait to lure tourists, Kerala Tourism has plans to make the entire state RT-compatible. However, for Kerala Tourism to call itself truly ‘responsible’, it has to put in place institutional mechanisms to prevent child abuse in tourism destinations.
The World Travel Mart, which sets the international rules of travel and will be held in November this year, had a couple of years ago declared that a destination could be branded ‘responsible’ only if host children are protected from the excesses of tourism. Meaning, no cosmetic declarations will do. The Tourism Department will have to do more than linking the hotel industry and local communities to be a credible Responsible Tourism destination.
The ‘child protection’ clause was established during a seminar on ‘Child Protection and Tourism’ organized as part of WTM London in 2015. Harold Goodwin, the founder of International Centre for Responsible Tourism and Kerala’s unofficial RT mentor, had stated that the tourism industry should take responsibility for child protection.
Kerala Tourism, touted as the country’s first RT destination, has always taken the position that child abuse is essentially a police issue. Mr Goodwin chastised the evasive attitude of governments on the issue, especially their over-reliance on legal niceties, in his blog. “A legal interpretation would result in a narrower understanding of what an hotelier, tour operator or guide might be held accountable for in court. If we mean by taking responsibility the willingness to do what we can to prevent evil or the obligation not to turn a blind eye then the tourism industry’s child protection agenda is much broader,” he said.
An official study carried out in 2012 had revealed that nearly 50 percent of school children in Kovalam were subjected to some form of abuse. Kovalam was also identified as the place where the school dropout rate was alarmingly high. In 2009, after a spate of child abuse cases were brought to light, the LDF Government declared that Kovalam would be ‘Child Abuse Non-Tolerant’ by December of that year. It even began an awareness campaign against child abuse. The movement was not sustained and soon fizzled out....