Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Shimon Peres are due to attend a conference in Jordan on how peace can bolster tourism and bring relief to a Middle East torn by the Palestinian uprising. "The violence underway in the region makes it imperative that we pursue our plan to hold this conference," Jordanian Tourism Minister Akel Biltaji told AFP.
"We (in the region) lost thousands and thousands of reservations, millions and millions of dollars and thousands of jobs simply because peace and justice are not prevailing," Biltaji said during an interview.
The November 8-11 Global Summit on ‘Peace Through Tourism’ will discuss "how interfaith dialogue can be a bridge between people and how conflict resolution management is another avenue to bolster the culture of peace," he said.
The violence that has swept the Palestinian territories and Israel since September 28 with its daily pictures of death and destruction beamed across the world has kept thousands of visitors away.
The number of tourists to the Holy Land dropped to between 30 and 50 percent below forecasts in October according to tourism officials in Israel, which expected a boom during the last quarter of the millennium year. Israeli tourism officials expect the industry to suffer losses of around half a billion dollars in the final quarter of the year.
In Jordan the industry is also suffering with 30 percent cancellations for October, 40 percent for November and 20 percent for December. "We are definitely going to discuss the events of September and seek ways to convince the people in the conflict to take stock of their losses," said Biltaji.
The conference is organized by the International Institute for Peace through Tourism in Jordan in tribute to the peacemaking efforts of the late King Hussein, who died in February 1999, Biltaji told AFP. "All this is dedicated to the legacy of peace left behind by the late King Hussein: that the torch must continue to be lit and that there is no other alternative to peace," Biltaji said.
Hussein's son and successor King Abdullah II announced the forum in May and told a press conference in New York: "Without peace and stability there wouldn't be tourism". Louis D'Amore, founder and president of the International Institute for Peace through Tourism, told AFP that Mandela will be among the featured speakers at the conference.
A list of other guests includes Peres, the Israeli minister for regional cooperation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and American Express Chairman Harvey Golub. During four days industry experts and representatives from culture, environment and development organizations will discuss the different aspects of tourism and how peace can bolster it.
Featured themes include "healing the wounds of conflicts through tourism" as well as "bridging the have and have-nots regions of the world" and "educating for a culture of peace through tourism."
Spirituality will be high on the agenda. The summit starts with a "spiritual gathering" at Bethany Beyond the Jordan where Jordanian officials and archeologists say Jesus was baptized by his cousin John. Huge baptismal pools and remains of ancient churches have been found in that spot just east of the Jordan River and Pope John Paul II prayed there during a visit to Jordan in March.
An "international peace park" is expected to be launched from Bethany on the sidelines of the conference, organizers have said. "Jordan can stand alone as a tourist destination but we are committed to a regional product," as part of its commitment to the Middle East peace process, Biltaji said.
Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. The tiny kingdom has seen a steady increase in tourism over the past three years with the number of tourists rising by 8.1 percent in 1999 over 1998, according to the Central Bank. Tourism represents 12 percent of Jordan's total gross domestic product, according to Biltaji, and is a key source of foreign currency. — (AFP, Amman)
© Agence France Presse 2000
by Hala Boncompagni
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)