Conflicts, violence and war limit and diminish opportunities for economic growth and development, said world personalities in the global summit designed to promote peace through tourism. Tourism can serve as a sustainer of peace by bringing much needed income into areas where sources of livelihood are limited, and can sensitize tourists to indigenous and minority cultures and ways of life.
"[Tourism] initiates environmental development, provides foreign exchange to counter the balance of payments deficit and to service external debts, creates new jobs and generates income for local people," said UN resident coordinator Costante Muzio, on behalf of Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Muzio was speaking during the first plenary session in a global summit organized by the Vermont-based International Institute of Peace Through Tourism. But he also emphasized that governments and business must strike an appropriate balance to keep tourism sustainable, since tourism as an industry can infringe on human rights and threaten indigenous minorities and cultures and damage sacred sites.
"Tourism lures children away from schools, forcing them into exploitative situations," he said. "Further, there is credible evidence of trafficking and prostitution being linked with the tourism industry."
He added that sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS and the sexual exploitation of women and girls are often associated with the sector. With many tourist destinations, the proliferation of the sex industry and HIV infection are the most obvious concerns of tourism.
"Tourism will flourish in an environment where democracy and the rule of law guarantee the health, security of [the] person, the right to privacy and the right health," he told participants from 60 countries across the globe.
Tourism may have positive effects on the human rights of the local inhabitants when they are involved in the sector's development. Eco-tourism and ethno-tourism hope to change the unequal relationships of conventional tourism.
The four-day summit, which started on Thursday, brought together nearly 350 personalities to discuss how tourism can bolster the prospects of peace in the region and other parts of the world. It coincides with the United Nation's Year for the Culture of Peace.
Thinking of tourism at a time of so much suffering in the region may seem callous, said Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed, undersecretary general of the UN, on behalf of Kofi Annan, UN secretary general.
Addressing the conference, he said that participants are meeting at a time of renewed bloodshed in Palestine, which has increased tension in the Middle East as well as sorrow and anguish around the world.
"This is a time when no stone should be left unturned in the search for peace... tourism should be encouraged as a way to make people in different parts of the world more aware of each other's problems and points of view," he stressed. "Tourism has a vital role to play in the economy of the Middle East."
Speaking on behalf of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, who could not attend the summit as he was recovering from influenza, South African Ambassador Vincent Zulu said discussing the promotion of peace is very significant at this moment.
"The responsibility for achieving peace is in the first place upon those who are in positions of leadership in any of the conflict situations," he said. "It is our eternal disgrace that so many people who call themselves leaders sacrifice the well-being of their people in pursuit of selfish power, no matter how well those motives may be rationalized." — ( Jordan Times )
By Suha Ma'ayeh
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)