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by Rhonda Brewer | June 24, 2015

Rhonda BrewerThe meetings and events industry is, in large part, about connecting people and building relationships. Social media, email and other forms of electronic communication are great for communicating across distances and maintaining connections, but it's face-to-face meetings that foster trust and lead to solid, long-term relationships and partnerships
 
In my travels as SITE president, I am blessed with many valuable opportunities to meet with incentive travel professionals around the globe, ask questions and listen to their concerns. These personal interactions build trust, understanding and a real sense of a shared mission.  
 
In today's fast-paced world, we also can't forget to embrace humanity. When the SITE International Board defined its strategic priorities for 2015, the majority of the goals were focused on member growth and outreach around the globe. It was also imperative to me to add a human element or "heartbeat" to SITE and instill a greater purpose to our work by raising awareness of the issues related to the adverse effects of international travel.  
 
Human trafficking is a global issue in the travel and tourism industry. With the use of online classified ads, human trafficking has moved off the streets and behind the closed doors of hotels rooms. Women and children are targeted and manipulated by traffickers who transport victims from city to city via airlines and buses. More than 80 percent of arrests take place in airports and hotels.
 
I first became aware of the global issue of human trafficking in travel and tourism when Maritz became a member of the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, a joint venture between the tourism private sector and ECPAT, a global organization dedicated to ending child slavery at the source (ecpatusa.org). The code was specifically created to be a child-protection tool used by the industry to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism activities.
 
However, it was following a mission trip to Belize that I experienced human trafficking firsthand. We were providing education support for a 13-year-old girl and received an email informing us that she had been "sold." I don't think anyone had put two and two together that she was a victim of human trafficking, and we immediately contacted the authorities. That is when I vowed to leverage my position in the industry and leadership at SITE to bring awareness to the issue and help stop this crime.
 
In May, SITE became a member of the code, signifying our commitment to speak out against sexual exploitation of women and children. Our plan is to leverage our global footprint -- our chapters, our members around the world -- to raise awareness of the unfortunate connection between travel and tourism and human trafficking. We want to educate our members on the signs to look for in hotels and airports that might alert them to suspicious activities and how to report them.
 
Human trafficking is a global problem that demands global solutions and requires all sectors of the travel industry to work together to support ECPAT's work. It is by building awareness and encouraging vigilance that we can really make a difference and help eliminate human trafficking in travel and tourism.

Rhonda Brewer is the president of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and vice president, sales, for Maritz Travel, and honored as one of M&C's Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry. Go to mcmag.com/features for the full article, to be posted July 1.