Communicating child protection issues in tourism: interview with the ChildSafe Movement

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ChildSafe is a movement actively protecting children and youth, involving everyone, everywhere. Millions of children across the world are facing mistreatment, violence or exploitation and often adopt risky behaviors to survive. Since 2005, ChildSafe has advocated for child protection policies and practices, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The movement provides the highest standards of protection to children and youth by delivering concrete measures and advice to individuals, businesses, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and has developed creative and innovative programs, undertaking vigorous awareness-raising activities and encouraging behavioural change.

Valerie Sfeir, International Coordinator at ChildSafe Movement
Valerie Sfeir

For this interview, part of our series talking with all the finalists for this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Valerie Sfeir, International Coordinator at ChildSafe Movement.

Anula: How do you communicate your efforts towards sustainable tourism to your guests?

Valerie: This is our main activity – we raise awareness of child protection among all tourism industry stakeholders, including well-intentioned tourists whose behaviours unfortunately may incur negative consequences on children and communities. Our activities include international media and grassroots campaigning, training of tourists, and training and certification of businesses. The result is a unique local and international network empowered to stand up against the exploitation of vulnerable children in the tourist industry.

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Anula: What’s your biggest challenge in communicating these issues?

Valerie: Delivering change for the better and changing behaviours through advertising is considerably more complex than trying to sell a product. In fact we have faced a considerable number of challenges – people have different ideas and beliefs at different times; come from different cultures with differing values; and can also be geographically isolated, living thousands of miles away from the issue.

“Delivering change for the better and changing behaviours through advertising is considerably more complex than trying to sell a product”

These challenges have included addressing the considerable knowledge gaps on issues that travellers (and the tourism industry) had concerning the broad range of child protection issues that travel in the developing (and indeed developed) world throw up, and creating campaign materials which have ‘universality’ – are easily understood within a global context yet can be readily adapted to specific local needs. As I mentioned, cultural attitudes also needed to be addressed in our materials. We’ve had to find new ways to acknowledged these cultural or social differences, for example tailoring materials on giving to child beggars to reflect a primarily Buddhist environment in Thailand. Visuals and other materials also need to be non-exploitative of children too, with use of models and ‘unreal’ or exaggerated situations to illustrate issues.

The amount of translation needed was also challenging – materials have currently been translated into 15 languages! Of course, with any not-for-profit undertaking, funding, or rather lack of it, has an impact on what you can do, and we are immensely proud to have achieved so much to date under our funding constraints.

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Anula: How do you engage local communities in what you do?

Valerie: Local communities are among the principal actors in child protection. They are the key members after the family and the children themselves to be empowered. We train and certify members of the local community and businesses to be ChildSafe Agents. These include village chiefs, street sellers, taxi drivers, monks, tour operators and hotel staff – all able to identify and protect children from abusive situations and equipped to respond immediately to a child in danger.

Currently 8,000 strong, those members know how to constructively approach problems faced by children and they are strategically placed to prevent any harm. We also promote their services, for example to tourists – illustrating that by using a ChildSafe taxi, staying in a ChildSafe hotel or eating in a ChildSafe restaurant you are not only supporting child protection in the community, but having positive economic benefits to the community also.

Anula: How do you engage suppliers in what you do?

Valerie: The tagline of ChildSafe is ‘Together, protecting children’. We have actively established a multilateral network of partners and supporters from across a spectrum of stakeholders, including various business industries such as the travel and tourism sectors, the NGO/CSO world, the business sector and Governments. For example, we have signed agreements with the Tourism Departments of the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand, and our campaigns aimed at tourists were undertaken in partnership with local ministries and UNICEF. Other Movement members do not receive one off training; they are trained, assessed and monitored regularly by CS teams. We give everyone a way to be actively involved in protecting children.

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Anula: What is unique or innovative about your approach to communication?

Valerie: ChildSafe is unique in its global methodology which is reflected in our communication approaches. We have established strong guidelines in how we present our work, which revolve around child protective elements, so no ‘pity charity’ approaches or other exploitative methodologies are used. We strive to connect with our target groups by creating content that makes an impactful connection, and fosters additional levels of understanding.

A good example is our ‘Children Are Not Tourist Attractions’ campaign imagery, which although it’s primary focus was raising awareness of orphanage tourism has also spun off into the issues of voluntourism and exploitation. We also create dedicated messages following the cultural context of our target groups, such as the Citizen Tips for specific countries – all of this has been achieved on minimal budgets, but maximising our partnership links to share materials and using social media as our primary channel.

Anula: What have you learned about communication and marketing so far, what works and what doesn’t?

Valerie: Our aim is impact and mission driven, taking into consideration our wide audience (yes, everyone can truly have an impact on child protection) and indeed the children themselves – they need to be empowered to become actors of their own protection too! All available marketing channels can be useful but we strategize according to our available resources (the funding issue again!) and the constraints of the human resources we have available to us.

It is our belief also that traditional charity models are not working and need to be replaced by new models that combine the best of the NGO world (such as the holistic approaches developed by Friends, the NGO which powers ChildSafe, to ensure sustainable outcomes for children, youth and families) and the best of the business world. An adapted kind of ‘marketing mix’ is one. We’ve been challenged in how we develop effective materials for ‘sending’ countries – general child protection messages may be confusing (people may think we are talking about how they are protecting their children whilst in transit or touring – important, of course, but not the primary thrust of these campaigns).

“traditional charity models are not working and need to be replaced by new models that combine the best of the NGO world and the best of the business world.”

No matter what kind of marketing we do we are always learning and we concentrate on the process to among other things understand the insights of our varied audiences.

So, overall, ours is a “Diversity Marketing” approach, given the many diversities existing culturally among our audience in terms of beliefs, expectations, etc.
We utilise cross-media marketing, always trying to maximize our communication opportunities and visibility to have a stronger lasting impact, whilst adapting the messages accordingly to the channels. Of course we also utilise Behavioural Marketing, Word-of-Mouth Marketing, Call to Action (CTA), Marketing Direct, etc.

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Anula: What motivated you to apply for World Responsible Tourism Awards?

Valerie: We were very excited by the opportunity of applying to the WRTA as they are a highly respected and regarded part of the tourism industry. We are of course promoting a global child protection Movement in which the tourism industry can play a growing and hugely significant role, so for us this is an ideal opportunity to not only raise awareness of our work but to foster a deeper engagement with the tourism sector.

Anula: What expectations do you have if you win?

Valerie: We are very hopeful that if we are lucky enough to be winners, it will spur not only more awareness of the ChildSafe Movement generally, but will also lead to increased engagement from the tourism sector and tourists themselves – we want to see the Movement grow, and we believe that effective partnerships between the private and public sectors are one of the best ways forward to do that as fundamentally it is our shared responsibility – ‘together’ we can protect children!


ChildSafe Movement logoTo find out more about ChildSafe Movement, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

world-responsible-tourism-awards-2016-logoThis article is part of the interview series with the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in marketing and sustainable tourism communications. The rest will be published between now and the opening of World Travel Market on November 7th.

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