Large sectors of the travel industry are evading responsibility for human rights, according to a leading tour operator.
The claim was made as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) told the industry to pay more in low-wage destinations.
Kuoni Travel head of corporate responsibility Matthias Leisinger (pictured) said online travel agents (OTAs) and emerging source markets should take responsibility for human rights in tourism alongside tour operators.
Speaking at German trade show ITB in Berlin, Leisinger said: “It’s fair to put the big tour operators in the spotlight, but we need to acknowledge tourism is changing.
“There are big OTAs and new source markets – China, India, Russia – and this is changing the landscape.”
However, Wolfgang Weinz, hotels, catering and tourism specialist at the ILO, said: “If you improve payment, working conditions and hours, you touch a lot of [human rights] problems.
“Child labour is linked to the question of adult income. What can tourism do to improve the situation? Improve payment.”
Weinz said: “Tour operators have a huge responsibility because of the supply chain. They are the big players.”
Abta head of destinations and sustainability Nikki White said tour operators frequently don’t talk about what they are doing because of the attention it attracts.
She said: “It’s difficult sometimes to raise issues because as soon as you say you are doing something there is more scrutiny.”
White added: “Abta is just starting out on human rights, but we are already working in a lot of areas that affect human rights.
“Our members sell 14 million package holidays a year and lots of other holidays. We want thriving destinations and customers want to be confident their travel organiser is doing things ethically.
“How can we say we deliver a quality product if we do not consider human rights?”
Antje Monshausen, head of non-governmental organisation (NGO) Tourism Watch, said: “Travel companies need to take responsibility for their own business but also for the supply chain.”
Kuoni and Tourism Watch are members of Human Rights in Tourism, established in October 2012 and comprising 10 tour operators and five NGOs.
Its members have signed a commitment to human rights in tourism, which they are urging other business to sign, and produced guidelines on implementation.