Tourism is a powerful force for promoting tolerance and can counter distrust fostered by the war on terror. But mass-market tour operators do too little to promote understanding.
Addressing a seminar on the challenges of tourism at travel trade show ITB in Berlin, Ethiopian prince Dr Asfa-Wossen Asserate said: “Travel is an opportunity to meet people of different cultures and can provide a counterweight to the idea of a clash of civilisations.”
He pointed out: “Openness and tolerance are basic preconditions for success in tourism. The foundation of the travel trade is hospitality – requiring openness on the part of the host and respect on the part of the guest.”
Asserate, a management consultant, described as “nonsense” the argument in the book The Clash of Civilisations by Samuel Huntingdon that differences in culture lead to conflict. Both US president Bush and former UK prime minister Tony Blair have used this argument to explain the war on terror.
In contrast, Asserate said: “We need to get to know each other and know other people are not the enemy.”
However, he said: “Tour operators simply reproduce a pattern that is the same everywhere, to make people feel at home wherever they are. No one expects this to lead to an exchange of cultures. It marginalises and kills local cultures.”
He contrasted this to a notion of travel, which he said “goes beyond just making a profit”.
Asserate pointed to a boom in tourism to Islamic countries and said: “Visitors are experiencing Islam as different from the way it is presented.”
And he suggested European and American tourists must get used to the idea that they will no longer have traditional destinations to themselves.
He pointed out 34 million Chinese travelled abroad last year – compared with the world’s biggest travel market, Germany, which sent 40 million abroad.