We are now more connected than ever, and travel has become more accessible and affordable for many. Enhancements in technology allow us to reach someone on the other side of the globe in seconds and advances in air travel allow us to travel to destinations that only explorers could reach in earlier times.
We now have over 1 billion international travelers yearly and that number is expected to double by 2030, according to statistics from the World Tourism Organization. The number of U.S. passport holders continues to rise as well, having already skyrocketed from 9% of Americans in the 1990s to nearly half (46%) now.
Why do we travel? Certainly we travel to relax, get to know other cultures and people. Travel in that way can be a great tool to bring peace.
Travel As A Mechanism For Peace
The idea that we can achieve peace through tourism is not new. Since the 1950s after WW2, countries like Germany and France pondered ideas of how future wars could be avoided. The idea was simple, by introducing young people of different countries to each other and the other cultures; we can create an understanding and ultimately peace. The concept of international youth exchange was born. And 50 years later Europe is unified.
We also can be a force of peace if we travel with the consciousness of truly wanting to get to know the other culture and the awareness that we too are ambassadors of our culture whenever we travel. Tourism can only lead to intercultural understanding when we truly engage with the local people and not just watch from the comforting bubble of a hotel balcony.
We can further help remove chaos from the world by changing ourselves for the better. Travel allows you to discern who you are versus what society and culture tells you who you should be. It allows you to listen to your heart and find your soul.
That's why I believe travel is best when it pushes you slightly out of your comfort zone. You grow through it. When we travel we take a journey within as well, which can help us achieve inner peace. So go venture out and experience your life, share a meal and laughs with locals and in the process you just might find yourself! But travel should also be good for the hosts and destinations we visit.
Tourism Fuels Local Economies
The world is a global village in which over 60% of the inhabitants live on less than $ 2 a day. For these poorest countries, tourism is a vital tool for development and foreign income. Imagine, with over one billion travelers, tourism could be the greatest equalizer. So why isn’t it? Have you ever thought where your tourism spending goes?
Through research we now have a good understanding of how tourism dollars flow through communities. And we found that the majority of your spending does not stay in the community, it leaks out. When tourists buy prepackaged tours, a lot of the money leaks out of the host destination. When tourists stay in multinational or international resorts or hotel chains the money goes back to the country the company is from. Locals are left with low paying, part time and often seasonal jobs, while management jobs are given to employees from out of country.
As travelers you have a choice of where to spend your money. Travel can enhance your life and can bring livelihoods to your hosts. By using local guides, transport and accommodations, visiting protected areas, and eating local meals you are contributing to a value chain that empowers the destinations you visit.
Operators that make an effort to go through sustainable or ecotourism certification are usually also doing their part to enhance local empowerment and equality. Visiting private, public or any protected areas on your trip not only allows you to see the local flora and fauna, but also enables your hosts to economically sustain themselves by protecting its unique natural resources. In this way tourism can be a great tool for conservation and preservation.
Charitable Tourism Could Work Wonders
And better yet, what if we could actually give back beyond tourism dollars? What if, through travel, we support organizations that work locally and make meaningful contributions? Just imagine, if out of 2 billion international tourists only a small percentage traveled responsibly and choose wisely where to spend their money, tourism could create miracles!
So, when you book your next trip look for the company's philosophy, try to find out about their supply chain. Look for small programs such as Pack For A Purpose, where you can deliver needed supplies to an in-country operator, to make a difference locally.
There are many tour companies with great programs and also many that just talk the talk. Do your research and try to make conscious choices to use local operators, accommodations and restaurants or operators that have been through local or international certification.
Image: nmedia / Shutterstock