How to Rebuild Tourism with Politics Involved? Mission Impossible?

  • Socio-cultural, environmental and economic impact on source and target markets and both their societies and (potential) hosts and visitors;
  • Travel & Tourism appraisal, the degree of its importance for our place, and how strong Tourism is intertwined with related sectors and industries;
  • Readjustment of the political framework to boost Travel & Tourism as an outstanding service industry, and to benefit from Tourism as a set of communication ‘tools’, in order to enhance umbrella brand and image of the place/destination in its totality – as a place to live, to work, to invest, and to travel.

Travel & Tourism is the industry that is dedicated to making dreams come true, that spearheads people’s yearnings on the way to free traveling, enjoying leisure and pleasure, sports and adventure, arts and culture, new insights and viewpoints. Are these not key properties that make human life even more worth it? Does Travel & Tourism, therefore, not earn a first-rank voice on local, regional, national, and global stages that defend human rights and exhort human duties? 

In a time of manipulation, plagiarism, fake news, populism, and virtual hate-speech, Tourism provides the stage for creativity, evokes the natural and the pristine, the artistic and the unique highlights of both world heritage and their ‘Disney’-inspired ‘second-hand’ worlds. There is no need to demonize the artificial at all: However, without neglecting the artificial, Tourism aims at the ‘authentic’ – and we are aware: Authenticity,  i. e., the feeling of not being cheated, can also be realized in the ‘truthful’ world of the artifice that is inspired by heart — and ‘art’, and therefore dedicated to the classic ideal of ‘the True, the Beautiful and the Good’.

Although fragmented into a few thousand ‘big fish’ and millions of small and medium-sized (SME) private firms and public institutions, Travel & Tourism boasts itself of being the largest industry in the world – animated by ideals and committed to serve and to provide enthusing travel experiences. Moreover, Tourism even regards itself as the number one peace industry. Is this known to anyone outside the sector? Does Travel & Tourism come up to this noble pretension?

The vision of traveling the world once incited Thomas Cook to organize the first package tour. Centuries later, the vision of traveling freely across borders turned out to be the vector that sparked off East Germany’s Monday demonstrations. Jointly with freedom-loving world leaders, people’s ‘mission impossible’ finally lead to nothing less than the toppling of oppressive communist regimes and the spectacular fall of the wall! What a turnaround! One of a kind is hard to be repeated.

In return, however, old patterns seem to emerge again: Indeed, we have changed from Cold War to Cold Peace, knowing well that this is little more than an armistice. Is it that what we wanted?

After the fall of the wall, chances and opportunities layout like season’s promotions, ready to be taken. The Soviet Union had broken up, Russia was in turmoil, yet President Yeltsin, a usurper, showed himself strong enough to prevent a coup d’état. Ten years later his successor Putin, generally not regarded as a “flawless democrat” (despite Germany’s ex-chancellor Schröder’s somehow hasty assessment), spoke in the German Bundestag and was cheered across all parties. The Warsaw Pact had been dissolved, but NATO, eager to release East Europeans from their ‘Russian threat’ nightmare, took time by the forelock and expanded eastward. Russia felt knocked out, and its growing awareness to really be part of Europe was culpably ignored. The western alliance showed itself militarily purposeful but politically shortsighted. Today, instead of giving flesh to the original spirit of a European-Russian partnership, we’d better watch out for Russian expansionism.

What a chance missed in the early 1990s to ‘dare the brave new world’: to open up Russia to Europe and the West and throw all those rotten Cold War instruments out of their toxic political vintage structure. “NATO is obsolete” — does it matter, since it was just Trump to say that? —

What an opportunity missed by visionary leaders on state, government and top-business levels to show foresightedness and enthusiasm, and speak out? What a failed chance for Travel & Tourism, the world’s foremost peace industry, to leave their stakeholders’ professional ivory tower and make it a lighthouse of universal radiation: to launch stringent cooperation appeals, mediate transnational cross-sector summits of key-decision makers, organize socio-cultural events, help strengthen mutual trust and confidence and send strong messages of Peace through Tourism to peoples in upheaval?

Alas, a political opportunity of this kind elapsed, and the ideas to shape a turning point to the better were either denied or left unheard.

“In the beginning was the word”: There are efforts nowadays – sometimes doubtful as they are, admittedly – to rename familiar words: So, the simple ‘host’ has been at least linguistically upgraded to a ‘resonance manager’. If the focus lies on ‘resonance’, Travel & Tourism organizations should internalize this notion, truly enhancing their resonance and visibility to the level of more ‘societal catalysts’, rather than to keep their loftiness as talkative worrywarts, having arranged themselves to live with everyday bureaucracy and the constraints of their fragmented industry.

This is more than just another evidence that some hospitality executives’ mantra is contradictory to itself: to ‘keep politics out of Tourism’. Well, it may be understandable in view of Tourism’s involvement in day-to-day policies: Tourism, in order to act more freely, should be exempt from the corsets of public administration and given a separate form of private law instead. However, there is a severe contradiction if Tourism is recommended to be an actor ‘outside of politics’ at all.

Actually, UNWTO, WTTC, and other leading organizations in Travel & Tourism are hardly perceived by the general public as ‘torch relays’ of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, who are dedicated to show up and act beyond the limits of Tourism itself and its congenial periphery.

They should better start to do so, in view of present developments during and in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in view of environmental disasters and social upheavals. It is mandatory that the Travel & Tourism sector actively and in concerted actions with national and international team-players supports the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, taken all combined goodwill and technical capacities together, we can hardly reach the 1,5-degree maximum temperature target set by 2040 already, as, for instance, political parties in Germany envisage, in order to combat the global greenhouse effect. Therefore, besides strengthening our efforts to contain climate change, we should provide our share to invest a lot of brainwork and money in elaborating a way on how to live with climate change. Finding solutions will be crucial to preserving freedom, social wellbeing, and peace. Is mission impossible? — Never say never!

Travel & Tourism, as the presumed Number-One peace industry, cannot steal itself away from political commitment and responsibility – it stands right in the middle of it all, and should try to spearhead the respective destination’s overall appearance, its actions, and creative solutions, in partnership with like-minded institutions, organizations, and companies, like schools and universities, civil and charity organizations, the transport/mobility and Renewable Energy sectors, garbage removal, water and wastewater management, safety and security, civil construction … Travel & Tourism should increase its political weight to provide social and environmental cross-sector campaigns with their highest impact and symbolic rating possible.

The recent World Cleanup Day, highly welcomed in the West and, as ‘subbotnik’ (actually ‘Saturday’ cleanup), familiar in Russia and Eastern Europe, would have been a perfect example to start with, as a purposeful ‘prelude’ to the annual World Tourism Day Sept. 27.

Wishful thinking only?

Author Max Haberstroh, Tourism Consultant in Germany, Member of the World Tourism Network

A Convenient Truth is an article published by Max Haberstroh.

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