Blog post

“Protection of children is in our DNA”

Global Child Forum

Published: February 9, 2017

Q&A with Atlantica Hotel’s CEO Paul Sistare

Paul Sistare is a man on a mission. As the Founder and CEO of Atlantica Hotels International, he not only ensures that his guests get a good night’s rest, but he makes sure that he does too. How does he do this? By knowing that he, and the whole Atlantica Hotel chain, promote sustainable tourism with a special emphasis on protecting children’s rights.
In the run-up to the next Global Child Forum in South America, where Paul Sistare will be a featured speaker, we asked him a few quick questions about the travel and tourism industry, what Atlantica Hotels are doing to support of children’s rights and how he deals with the ever-increasing pressures of leading the largest privately held hospitality company in Latin America.

Global Child Forum (GCF): The travel and tourism industry has huge potential to positively impact children’s rights, and tourism features in three of the SDGs. What do you think needs to be done within the sector to truly have a positive impact on children? What are some of these key actions?

Paul Sistare (PS): To positively impact children’s rights, the first action required is recognition that children’s rights are being violated all over the world including the most sophisticated cities in the world – this is not just an issue in poor countries and underdevelopment nations.  When the problem is recognized and identified, the actions begin at the front lines of defense.  This includes hotels being vigilant when accepting guests who arrive with minors (often without proper documentation to prove legal custody), and also involves the tourism industry as a whole including airlines, cruise ships, attractions and so on.  Those individuals on the front line must then accept their responsibility and have the means to identify and then report violations without fear of repercussion by the police or governmental agencies, much less the leadership of the respective companies.

GCF:  It’s been said that supporting children’s rights in the workplace is not ornamental, but fundamental. What is Atlantica Hotels (Brasil) doing to ensure that children’s rights are protected and respected?

PS: In 2006, Atlantica was the first and only company to call out the horrid violation of children’s rights, more specifically sexual exploitation, and created an internal “code of conduct” prior to being the first and only company in Latin America to sign an industry-wide international Code of Conduct on the issue*.  That internal code of conduct came with a year of intensive training of all guest contact staff, which included the reporting of suspected violations with the support on a long-term partnership with the NGO Childhood Brasil.  

In the second year, Atlantica demanded that all purveyors of products used at Atlantica hotels participate in the Atlantica Code of Conduct.  In parallel to this action, various programs were adopted by individual hotels to assure that guests of the hotel were also aware of the program.  Turn down service included reminders of the program, and guests were informed at check-in with visual posters at the front desk and in the lobby to encourage participation. 

In order to increase the commitment, specific campaigns were established in partnership with Childhood Brasil. The most important of these is the National Day against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children on May 18th.  Turnover of staff is a significant challenge in the hospitality industry and to keep the message strong with new staff, each hotel established a staff member as a “program mentor” and developed new training and education programs.  Today, a senior level staff, headed by the Vice President of Human Resources, representatives from the hotels and corporate office, and Childhood Brasil representatives meet monthly to develop new action plans to continue to not only raise money for the program but also develop new actions to keep the program fresh.  Protection of children is not a program in Atlantica; it’s the culture and DNA of Atlantica.

GCF:  Our benchmark report, The Corporate Sector and Children’s Rights in South America (which scores the region’s top 300 companies on how well they report on children’s rights), will be launched at the Global Child Forum on South America. What can the region’s businesses do to raise their score in the future?

PS: Successful case studies of respected organizations such as Atlantica Hotels need to be distributed to other companies.  Not only just the ultimate success story, but also how Atlantica Hotels built the success.  There were many programs that failed.  People forget those.  They only remember those that succeed.

Secondly, there must be a genuine desire to affect change.  Many people talk about social responsibility.  Few people act on their words.  Moreover, it cannot be a PR gimmick.  It must be part of the culture.  When that happens, everyone is an “owner” of the program.  Everyone becomes part of the solution; everyone is respected for his or her contribution.  And change comes about.

GCF:  The role of the CEO is more complex today than ever before – CEOs need to create long-term value for their companies and their community —  and pressure exists to be responsive to many stakeholders. How do you, as a CEO, see your role? How do you balance these many demands?

PS:  The CEO of the company sets the pace for the company.  They set the vision.  The staff senses the vision and follows.  Then there comes a time where the CEO must cease being the “owner” of the idea and allow others to take the program forward.  The program then becomes self-sustaining, regardless who is the CEO.   Today, all CEO’s are concerned with their image in the marketplace and social responsibility is a key to consumers thinking more favorably of the product.

Paul J. Sistare

Founder and Chairman

Atlantica Hotels International