By: Edwin Fuller
Founder and President of Laguna Strategic Advisors
Later this month, on September 27, people around the world will mark World Tourism Day as they have every year since 1980. That’s the day the United Nations designated as the one on which we recognize the positive contributions that global tourism makes each day to the world’s economic, cultural, political and social life.
Tourism today is a trillion-dollar industry involving the movement of more than one billion tourists across borders and another five to six billion travelers domestically every year.
As we currently experience serious global uncertainties on many fronts, tourism has the ability to help make things better. It generates socio-economic opportunities that help narrow the gap between rich and poor and gives rise to a robust middle class that benefits everyone. By promoting interaction between the tourist and host community, it provides a wonderful opportunity to sample a different way of life. We taste new foods, hear new music and explore the world’s cultural and historic heritage when we go abroad. By enabling these experiences, tourism lays the foundations and builds the bridges that lead to tolerance and understanding.
Ask any beauty contestant what they most wish for and the reply almost certainly will be “World Peace”. In fact, the majority of the world’s citizens want peace because we know we all can do so much more once we have peace. Yet, sustained peace is probably the one eternal desire among all mankind that has been out of reach since time began.
In my opinion, the very best catalyst toward our achieving our cherished goal of living in a peaceful world is Tourism.
We live today in a world of misconceptions and miscommunications. Many in our global community believe that what they see on TV or in movies are meant merely to entertain, not to inform. The lines between the news and editorial sections of our daily print media have become blurred. Social media bombards us daily with disparate bits of information—rarely in a context that makes it meaningful. Time was when folks were confident that pictures don’t lie; but now almost everyone knows that pictures can be photo-shopped. Often, all we know about an event is a 15-second sound bite caught on the run or what an acquaintance said they heard somewhere. Many of our fellow citizens around the world grow up in environments peppered with propaganda often spread by governments or organizations eager to influence their beliefs and opinions and, ultimately, actions. It’s hard for anyone anywhere to know what to believe anymore.
Nevertheless, we all form our opinions and prejudices and develop animosity based on this misinformation. None of this is new, but the warp speed of today’s global media and the quest to be “first in the know” almost always ensures that the first headline is not the “whole story”.
As a result, we all have a view of the people around us, but we seldom have all the facts. Although 25% of US citizens now carry a passport, almost a third of those that do venture abroad stay in North America, visiting Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. A relatively small percentage visits any of the emerging countries like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India & China), and Korea, the UAE or any of the other emerging countries—all of which are having a profound effect on the world and the global economy.
Just consider this: combined, consumer spending in the emerging countries has outpaced that of the developed ones every year since 2000 and is expected to continue on its rapid growth trajectory for years to come. The emerging countries now account for more than 50% of the global GDP in purchasing power and, in less than 10 years, the BRICs will add a combined $3.3 trillion to their consumer spending—a figure that equals adding another France and Germany combined to the marketplace.
The emerging countries are home to 85% of the world’s population and 90% of these people are under the age of 30. The total population of these countries is expected to grow at three times the rate of the developed economies now through the end of this decade. These projections are mind-boggling and we all need to sit up and take notice because the world as we all know it today will certainly be a far different place a decade or so from now.
This is where Global Tourism can play a huge role. We don’t really know what we haven’t seen and personally experienced. The world is out there for anyone of us who wants to learn and explore.
Everyone agrees that there is no better way to learn about a new culture than to experience it first-hand. And when you truly learn about other people by investing the time to meet them face-to-face and learn about their history and about what they cherish the most, you come away a far better, more informed and discerning person. You will be able to put what you hear from others into the context of your own life experience and make your own, informed opinion. Bolstered by your empathy and understanding of the world—as you have experienced it, you will become an advocate for how best to resolve the inevitable political and economic conflicts that arise. Most of all—you will have your own ideas on how best to achieve peace rather sitting in your arm chair, simply reacting to what others tell you.
No two ways about it: Tourism is our best bet for a peaceful, bountiful future. So, let’s all celebrate the many contributions Global Tourism has already made. More importantly, let’s all go out into the world and explore, learn and enjoy yourself!