Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

12 Apr, 2018

Hard questions for travel & tourism millennials: Does global war & conflict matter to you?

Bangkok — Here we go again. Fifteen years after the United States-led “Coalition of the Willing” attacked Iraq in pursuit of “weapons of mass destruction” that were never found, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of people and devastating an entire country, war-drums are again reverberating in the Levant, this time in Syria.

And as always, travel & tourism “leaders” are silent. Although the first two decades of this 21st century have witnessed one violent conflict after another, with dubious results and no end in sight, “leaders” of this so-called “industry of peace” have never once seen it fit to demand accountability from decision-makers and/or provide a proper platform for rationale debate, dissent and democratic discussion on where this is all going.

Maintaining a studious silence on controversial issues has become standard operating procedure as long as travel & tourism industry leaders’ own private interests and national tourism industries remain unaffected. That undercuts the industry’s claim to the moral high ground as well as its self-professed and now potentially fraudulent claim to be an “industry of peace.”

I would assert that these “leaders” are violating the first principle of good leadership, and that is to listen really, really carefully to their “followers”, especially those at grassroots of society.

FLASHBACK: Newsweek cover Oct 20, 2003


Barely a few weeks ago, between 13-17 March, thousands of workers, activists and civil society groups (whose average income perhaps would disqualify them from being considered as thought-leaders or visionaries) gathered in the Brazilian city of Salvador for the World Social Forum (WSF). This caucus is a direct opposition to the glitzy Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) which is attended only by high-income thought-leaders and visionaries.

In today’s highly dysfunctional world, income level is clearly equated with intelligence, which is predominantly “artificial” and hence may explain the dysfunctionality.

Because WSF participants are for the most part poor, travel & tourism “leaders” and media both ignore them. So does the global media. Those who live at the grassroots of society don’t have money to spend on advertising, shopping, fine-dining or cruising. So, as far as the “leaders” and the travel trade media (bar one) are concerned, their views are not worth much.

For years, these “followers” have been fervently appealing to “leaders” to curb militarization and wars, mainly because the poor are the first to become cannon-fodder. They renewed this appeal at the WSF 2018 which ended with a declaration by parliamentarians and representatives of political forces, the full text of which can be found here: https://wsf2018.org/en/english-world-social-forum-2018-declaration-by-parliamentarians-and-representatives-of-political-forces/

I am quoting only this now very relevant section:


As parliamentarians and representatives of progressive and internationalist forces, we are concerned by wasting immense resources in the recent global tide of militarization and raising military budgets of a lot of countries worldwide. More and more sophisticated weapons are counterproductive not only for global peace – they produced in order to be used – but for the survival of the planetary ecosystem. Massive propaganda creating an enemy image is boosting in all corners of the world against each other, otherwise people, voters, would not allow this to happen.

These means should instead be used to create a socially and environmentally just world, for a decent life of all people on the Earth.

To achieve this, we have to push for:

a) Stopping any war propaganda which creates fears and preparing for war (called “defence”).

b) Gradually diminishing military budgets worldwide under 1 pc of GDP.

c) Dissolving all military pacts and alliances at the end, coming back to peace diplomacy.

End quote

Would any of our travel & tourism “leaders” disagree with any of the above? I am pretty certain none of them were aware of this appeal which, in fact, is exactly in line with the WSF’s Charter of Principles, thus:

The World Social Forum was created in 2001 by organizations and social movements that were self summoned and mobilized for a huge meeting in Porto Alegre, in opposition to the neoliberalism represented by the World Economic Forum, which took place at the same time in Davos, in Switzerland.

Participants discussed ways to confront the dictatorship of the financial system, the imperialism of transnational corporations, the oppression of authoritarian regimes, the enslavement by the media, the culture of patriarchy and racism. They discussed alternative proposals for building more just and sovereign societies, access to knowledge and technologies and protection of the planet’s resources.

It was the first great meeting of the diversity of the many libertarian struggles, bringing together historical movements and self-organized youth. Thousands of workshops and conferences have put in debate the dilemmas, projects and utopias of the turn of the millennium.

In opposition to the single thought proposed by the Davos Forum, the meeting in Porto Alegre announced that Another World is Possible.

The world events that followed the first WSF have clashed with humanity’s longings for peace. In the same year 2001 the Twin Towers came down. And in the name of fighting terrorism, the US-led West has come to justify new wars and sow new forms of terror, to stigmatize entire peoples by their ethnicity and cultures, and to violently persecute immigrants. It armed himself without hesitation to fight precisely the diversity that the WSF celebrated.

Against all this, the movements and struggles gathered at the WSF were able to drive changes and show alternative paths which are now seriously threatened. In Latin America, in particular, more democratic experiences were possible through the rise to power of more progressive and diversified forces, including women, indigenous people and workers. And against which all conservative forces have teamed up.

The dreams of humanity today are confronted with the fundamentalisms of wars and xenophobia, and systems of domination with their new ways of striking liberties and democracies. The ability to resist is once again challenged. That is why organizations and movements aligned with the Charter of Principles of the World Social Forum once again join together to gather their diversity of struggles and join forces for resistance.

Salvador 2018 will be the meeting point: horizontal, self-managed and determined. If you agree with the WSF Charter of Principles, you are already a part of it. Get involved either in person or from the distance. The Salvador meeting will be networked, with everyone who wants to participate.

End Charter of Principles quote

As “millennials” are the blue-eyed boys of travel industry events these days, a few questions for them: Do you agree with the above? If so, when was the last time you heard any travel & tourism industry “leader” echo those views in public? Do you plan to hold these “leaders” accountable for their silence? Do you think it is about time for an open debate on where this is going?

What really matters most to you? Start-ups? Social media technobabble? Making money? When was the last time you visited a War Cemetery? Do you know that those kids who died in past wars and conflict were the same age as you? What did they die for?

Most important: Do you care? Enough to take a stand and demand some say and disruption in the decision-making process? Or will you just follow the lead of the current “leaders”?

This industry loves to talk about peace. The UN World Tourism Organisation has held many an event on this theme. The PATA annual summit in Korea next month will be about “Building Bridges, Connecting People.” Numerous tourism and peace institutes organise annual events at which they confer awards, deliver speeches, pass resolutions, inaugurate peace parks, etc.

A serious RoI assessment about whether any of that has delivered any peace may yield an anti-climax conclusion.

So, here we go again. More war, conflict and mayhem in the offing. And typical silence from the “leaders” of the “industry of peace.” When historians chronicle this years down the road, a lot of head-scratching is a foregone conclusion.