Tourism can play a key role in building peace and supporting reconciliation processes, concluded the UNWTO Conference on ‘Tourism, a catalyst for development, peace and reconciliation’ held in Passikudah, Sri Lanka between 11 and 14 July.
Community engagement and empowerment, capacity building and training, and public/private sector partnerships are key factors in advancing a culture of peace through tourism in post-conflict societies. Participants recalled the importance of placing tourism at the heart of the peace and reconciliation agenda, to ensure the sector can deliver on its capacity to generate development and social inclusion.
“Tourism is a vehicle for trust and goodwill. Cultural understanding can change attitudes and build peace. Tourism’s role in peace building is also enacted through its contribution to poverty alleviation, cultural preservation and environmental conservation,” said President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena in a message to the Conference.
“For most of the last thirty years, this place has been a warzone. Today, Passikudah is an example of how people affected by conflict have picked up the pieces and rebuilt their lives. We would not be meeting here if it were not for peace,” said the Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs and Lands of Sri Lanka, John Amaratunga.
“We will work to provide an example to the world on how to rise from the ashes of conflict to become a leading tourism destination,” he added.
“We face a deficit of tolerance. Tourism brings people together; it opens our minds and hearts”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, opening the Conference. “Yet to gain peace we need to give people opportunities for a better future; we need to create jobs and bring them hope,” he added.
“The Petra National Trust conducted a number of informal surveys that suggest that when tourism is poorly managed, societal tensions persist, local communities’ connection to their heritage weakens, responsible practices around tourism sites suffer, and local culture and values erode,” said HRH Princess Dana Firas, Chair of the Petra National Trust, Jordan, in her keynote address.
The Conference focused on four main topics: the contribution of tourism development to peace, local community involvement and ‘peace sensitive tourism’, public/private partnerships, and marketing in post-conflict destinations.
“This was an historical event in an area once torn apart by war. We trust that tourism development in Sri Lanka will bring more opportunities to the people and particularly the youth of the country,” said Paddy Withana, Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism, closing the event by recalling that the conference welcomed perspectives on how that can be done in full respect of communities and traditions from across the country.
On the occasion, five Sri Lankan companies – Aitken Spence Hotel Holdings PLC, Lanka Hotels & Travels PVT Ltd, Laugfs Leisure Limited, Siddhalepa Ayurveda Health Resort and Theme Resorts & Spas Pvt Ltd. – signed the Private Sector Commitment to the UNWTO Code of Ethics for Tourism, pledging to upload and promote the values of the Code. The signing ceremony was witnessed by UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, the Sri Lankan Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs and Lands of Sri Lanka, John Amaratunga, and Hiran Cooray, Member of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics.