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3 Sep, 2013

Peace Tourism CEO Urges Collective Industry Voice to Avert Wider Syrian Conflict

The Founder and President of the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT) has called on the travel & tourism industry to raise its collective voice in averting yet another conflict, this time in Syria. In a special message to the industry at the request of Travel Impact Newswire, Mr Louis d’Amore said it is time to learn the lessons of past world wars and heed Mahatma Gandhi’s words that an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.

Mr d’Amore’s message, reproduced in full below, is designed to motivate other travel industry groupings, organisations and associations worldwide to pluck up the courage to follow suit. It comes in the midst of growing concerns within the so-called industry of peace over gathering storm-clouds in the Middle East. Arguably the first travel & tourism industry executive to rise to the occasion and make such a call, Mr d’Amore’s comments carry more weight because he is a 77-year-old former U.S. war veteran. This year, he is marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the IIPT, which is solely devoted to the cause of promoting peace through tourism.

The war-drums were thundering last week just as the UN World Tourism Organisation’s 20th General Assembly was in session in Zambia/Zimbawe. However, the apex gathering of the world’s seniormost tourism leaders opted for politics over principle. Not a single resolution was passed to even obliquely refer to the looming war. Tourism leaders pay much lip service to tourism as a force for peace and job-creation, but when a man-made crisis looms that can be disastrous for both peace and jobs, they’ve got no shortage of excuses for not stepping up to the plate.

The twin themes of the General Assembly session were visa facilitation and aviation linkages, with much talk about the need to improve infrastructure, dismantle regulatory restrictions, raise financing, create easier visa regimes, etc. During the formal plenary speeches, however, only two tourism leaders, from Kenya and Turkey, made deeper references to the clear inter-connectivity between peace, visas, aviation and tourism. Their specific comments are also reproduced below. This editor asked both if they planned to give their message more traction by drafting an anti-war resolution for potential passage by the General Assembly. Both said they were keen but felt that the Europeans and other U.S. allies would jam it. Asked if it would be worth a try anyway, both said they would think about it. Eventually, however, nothing happened.

At the General Assembly, Mr d’Amore’s IIPT hosted a breakfast session to mark its Silver Jubilee. One of the speakers was UNWTO Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai who lauded the links between tourism and the promotion of cultural understanding, what he referred to as a “higher purpose” that is served beyond jobs and economic gains. “Travel has become an essential aspect of life,” he said. “There can be no real peace without us respecting, understanding and appreciating each other and celebrating our diversity. You can never hold any resentment against the people of any country you have visited.” Unlike any industry, Dr Rifai said, “travel touches us as human beings and changes us in a way that is definitely good.”

Neither Dr Rifai nor any of the other speakers made any reference to the brewing conflict which had just been averted that same day by a hair-breadth, thanks to the anti-war vote in the UK Parliament.

When President Obama then opted to take his case to the U.S. Congress, another window of opportunity opened for travel & tourism to initiate a protest. This editor immediately emailed Mr d’Amore to see if he would lead the charge. He agreed. The following is the text of Mr d’Amore’s message:

A central theme emerging from the successful UNWTO 20th General Assembly held this past week in Zambia and Zimbabwe was the important role of travel and tourism as a vehicle for peace. Indeed, the headline on one of Zambia’s major newspapers following the Opening Day read: “Use Tourism to Promote Peace.”

This past week also marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with his call for “Peace and Justice for all.” And plans are currently being made by a number of countries around the world for commemoration of the World War I Centenary with a theme of “No More War.”

At the same time, we are witnessing preparations for an escalation of conflict in Syria. It is time that we learn the lessons from World War I and other more recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Northern Africa and other regions of the world, that violence breeds more violence – and as Mahatma Gandhi said “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and soon the entire world will be blind and toothless.”

As one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries, the collective voice of the travel and tourism industry can prove to be strategic in calling on major powers of the world including the United States, China and Russia – to come together with courage and leadership to bring about a negotiated diplomatic end to the conflict in Syria and other troubled regions of the world thereby establishing a platform of collaboration for sustained human, social, and economic development for the remainder of the 21st Century.”

For the sake of historical posterity, the UNWTO General Assembly comments by the Turkish and Kenyan delegates need to be placed on the public record:

Mr Ozgur Ozaslan, Undersecretary, Ministry of Culture & Tourism, Turkey: “I would like to take this opportunity to mention another vital aspect of airline transportation as well as sustainable development of tourism worldwide. Airline transportation and travel volume are highly affected by political situation in both the destinations and the source markets. Therefore, global and regional peace and stability is the main component of tourism. Any instability or political unrest in any part of the world will ultimately affect the rest, resulting in sharp declines in tourist movements. As we are strictly connected to each other struggling for the same goal, no destination may possibly gain from another’s loss. Therefore we consider peace and stability throughout the world as the main element to be maintained in order to benefit from the unique resources of each of our countries.”

Dr Ibrahim Mohamed, Principal Secretary, Commerce and Tourism, Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, Kenya: “Kenya wishes to reiterate that without peace, tourism will struggle. We urge the UNWTO FAMILY (his capitalisation) to prioritise peace building efforts. Without peace, ladies and gentlemen, our collective investment in travel facilitation and air connectivity will be in vain. Let us all make tourism a political force, to ensure peace prevails.”

The next opportunity for soul-searching will arise at the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Asia Summit in Seoul between 10-11 September, the 12th anniversary of the infamous terrorist attack. The summit features keynote speaker Tony Blair. Exactly 10 years ago this year, the former UK Prime Minister backed former U.S. President George W Bush to attack Iraq in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that were proven to be non-existent. Often accused of being a war criminal, Mr Blair has managed to avoid all accountability and has been quoted as saying he has no regrets. It will be interesting to see whether he will now push for yet another conflict.

Even more interesting will be how the private sector captains of this “industry of peace” react to whatever Mr Blair says. While the UNWTO General Assembly is attended by government officers who often are leery about infringing on the turf of their Foreign Affairs counterparts, the private sector WTTC should have no such inhibitions – unless it, too, puts politics above principle.

Global travel & tourism is facing yet another moment of truth. Across the Asia-Pacific, the tourism high season is about to begin. Several major international travel trade shows are coming up. Billions of dollars worth of bookings await. If hostilities erupt, cancellations will follow, triggering the all-too-familiar downstream ripple-effect of income losses and job-cuts.

Realising the urgency of the situation, Mr d’Amore responded within hours to this editor’s call to raise his voice. Travel Impact Newswire now calls on other industry leaders to follow, not lead, the people. They can either fulfill their “responsibility to protect” industry jobs, including potentially their own, or be held accountable.

Silence is no longer an option.