Ahead of World Children’s Day, which takes place today (November 20), a panel of travel experts came together to discuss the important topic of children and travel, and highlighted the role we can all play in helping to protect children in the countries we travel to. They were also unanimous in their view that the future of travel will be much more responsible and experience-based for today’s younger generation.
Featured as part of the adventure operator’s Retravel Live series, G Adventures’ founder, Bruce Poon Tip, was joined by family travel specialists Heather Greenwood-Davis (Contributing Editor, National Geographic) and Maria Pieri (Editorial Director, National Geographic Traveller UK), as well as Sébastien Marot (Executive Director, the ChildSafe Movement) to discuss the impact of travel on children, both those who are travelling and those we meet along the way.
The message was apparent that it can be hard for agents and operators to know how, and when, to teach travellers about safely interacting with local children, and the panellists were happy to share some important recommendations.
Sébastien Marot, whose ChildSafe Movement partnered with G Adventures to launch its Child Welfare Guidelines in 2018, sees an opportunity for agents to also educate both themselves and their travellers on ChildSafe’s 7 Tips for Travellers which include not giving to begging children or treating children like tourist attractions.
“More than anything, travellers need advice on appropriate ways to help and information on who to contact to react to children in danger,” says Marot.
Heather Greenwood-Davis also stressed the importance of preparation and education, saying we have a responsibility as agents and advisors to make sure people are prepared for what they encounter and to maybe thwart that well-intentioned gift buying.
As well as discussing the need for agents and travellers to be more aware of how travel can impact local children in a more positive way, the panel discussed how travel can be a transformative experience for kids who are travelling, and what the future of travel might look like for today’s young adventurers.
“It will be slower. It will be more considered. It will be more sustainable and hopefully more experience-based,” said Maria Pieri.
“Whether it’s Gen Z, or whatever comes after Gen Z, I think they already have a global mindset. These are kids who have heroes in Greta Thunberg and the Malalas of the world. They are already thinking about those big issues and that is going to impact where their parents take them on vacation,” added Heather Greenwood-Davis.
“I really hope that mass tourism is a thing of the past. It has to be reinvented. In a few years, the norm of travel will be responsible travel…responsible for the people, responsible for the environment and responsible for the culture itself that we visit,” concluded Sébastien Marot.
Some additional takeaways from yesterday’s Retravel Live: Children & Travel panel include:
Children are not tourist attractions – As well-travelled parents, all our panelists agree that even the best intentions can have negative impacts on local children and their communities. Whether it’s taking pictures of them for Instagram or handing out goodie bags, there is real harm being done. “I try to think about it in the same way I think about my own children. How would I feel if someone came through and started handing them money on the street? How would I feel if somebody dropped a bag of candy off and sort of left them to it. If we think about the world’s children like our own children, we’ll be better.” – Heather Greenwood-Davis
Let your children lead the way with the local kids they meet – Given the potential for harm, Bruce asked whether we should be teaching our children any different rules for interacting with kids in other countries. Sébastien suggested that, as they get older, it’s important to be supportive and ready to answer questions openly and honestly about any disparities they see. As for teaching them different rules, he says: “I don’t think there are rules for children, the rules apply to the adults.” – Sébastien Marot
Even from home, you can build your children’s global point of view – With the pandemic’s thumb still on the pause button, many parents are looking for ways to excite their children about the world and its people. Maria suggests it’s about what we can do and using those as conversation starters: “You can still travel with purpose by exploring local woods and parks and looking into their culture and history. Also watching nature documentaries like David Attenborough’s Life on our Planet and Nat Geo channel, or try making that amazing pasta you had in Italy.” – Maria Pieri
Sometimes it is about the destination, not the journey – Whether your kids get a say or not, Bruce thinks it’s a good idea to kickstart conversations about potential destinations and cultural differences before you go, but he also debriefs with his kids once they get home. “When your kids get older you start seeing the benefits that travel has had in terms of their global view of things. Travel is transformational. It’s not necessarily always in the moment. It’s when you come home. It’s when you grow up. It’s knowing your place in the universe when you witness how other people live in the world.” – Bruce Poon Tip
The Retravel Live: Children & Travel event was the third in G Adventures’ Retravel Live virtual event series, which sees leading figures from across the industry tackle the most pressing issues facing travel today. Calling on consumers, travel agents, suppliers and media to tune-in, Retravel Live shines a light on the power of people to enact change and contribute to making the new way of travel better for everyone.