I SEE YOU: BUILDING GLOBAL CONNECTION AND PEACE THROUGH TRAVEL & TOURISM
For members of the global Travel & Tourism community, it is something we all know to be true. Travel & Tourism is one of our world’s most powerful vehicles for enabling peace.
No other industry in the world has the ability to encourage, and inspire, complete strangers from different worlds to cross vast distances (sometimes geographically, sometimes psychologically) to come together, to learn more about one another, to understand and embrace differences in ways of living, of thinking. At the same time, also discovered are ways in which we are all, at the end of the day, the same. Wherever we may come from we all dream, we all love, we all live in hope of a better, safer, more secure tomorrow.
Writing this piece, there could be no better muse for reinforcing the belief that tourism is a force for good, one that enables peace, than the here and now.
The here: Havana, Cuba.
The now: 2 May 2016 — the day the first American cruise company, Carnival Cruises, sails into Cuba in four decades. With its arrival comes a new future for the people of Cuba, recent changes to US-Cuban policy clearly beginning to defrost decades of icy relations, severe economic limitations, and painful human separation.
To stand on the shore of Havana’s port one not only saw, but felt, the profound importance of this ‘never thought it would happen in my lifetime’ moment. For the hundreds of Cuban locals gathered to watch history being made, the arrival of American tourists was a clear sign that the door to tourism, trade, and investment is truly open.
But speaking to the Cuban people, the significance of the arrival of American tourists was far deeper than shifts in economics and politics.
The imminent arrival of mass US tourism, a frenzy already felt, is expected to bring unprecedented levels of jobs, earnings, and investment to the formerly closed off island nation. Reasons to be confident are in their millions.
Late 2014, the early days of courtship of policy changes when US-Cuban detente was announced by US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, unlocked 2015 growth in American visitation to Cuba of over 77%. President Obama’s historic visit to Havana in March 2016 saw the leader set a prediction of growth in inbound tourism to 10 million per annum, a breathtaking increase compared to Cuba’s total international 2015 arrivals of slightly over 3 million.
For the people of Cuba, appreciation of tourism is not only because of the soon to be staggering rates of economic growth. It is, so importantly, in the growing feeling of pride, and validation, in being Cuban.
Now is the time for Cuba.
For the Cuban people, today they are able to lift their heads high. For the first time in a long time, in the eyes of their neighbours, their history matters, their way of life matters, their culture matters, their wellbeing matters, their dreams matter.
The world is anxious to finally, finally visit Cuba. An invisible society feels seen.
In Cuba, as in many other places across the globe working to lift themselves up from times of social, political, and/or economic struggle — South Africa a leading example — it is tourism that has enabled people of a nation to step out of the shadows, rebuilding as a more unified, positively identified, society.
And in so doing, the foundations for social cohesion and cooperation are firmly put in place — security, stability, responsibility, productivity, and enduring possibility.
The connection between tourism and peace is not a direct ‘if…then’. Rather it is a spectrum.
Through tourism comes discovery,
which brings understanding,
which brings appreciation and respect,
which brings connection,
which brings care and compassion,
which brings peace.
Which brings us back to what we know to be true. At the heart of tourism is its pure and simple ability to inspire one to say to another: “I see you, I understand you…hold my hand.”
Contributed by Anita Mendiratta, author & International Advisor in Tourism & Economic Development, Special Advisor to Secretary General of UNWTO, Lead Consultant of CNN T.A.S.K., and resource to World Bank.
To read WTTC’s research on how tourism is a driver of peace, please go to our website for the full report and the executive summary.