Opening the Doors to Peace through Tourism
Mira Berman, Executive Director, Africa Travel Associaition Africa's first IIPT Peace Through Tourism Conference Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, March, 2002
As we seek and find solutions to the most pressing problems of the day, the decade and new millennium. I join with each of you in saluting the proud achievements of IIPT, a movement that has earned its leadership position by advancing the cause of Peace Through Tourism.
ATA President, Hon. Zakia Hamdani Meghji, Minister of Tourism for The United Republic of Tanzania, echoes my sentiments, giving these efforts our highest priority, saying:
" Without peace there can be no tourism. Recognizing this, the Africa Travel Association (ATA) has been in the forefront as a founding member of the IIPT COALITION OF PARTNERS and has provided IIPT with a showcase at its annual congresses and ecotourism symposia. Our participation as an organizer of this historic conference demonstrates ATA's strong commitment to fostering peace through community-based and sustainable tourism on the African Continent."
Photo: Mira Berman plants a t ree on behalf of ATA at the Peace Forest dedicated at God's Window in Mpumlanaga at Africa's 1st IIPT Peace Through Tourism Summit.
The Hon. Mrs. Meghji is not alone; her predecessor, the Hon. Michael Afedi Gizo, became an active IIPT supporter while Tourism Minister of Ghana, and remains a strong voice for the organization. At IIPT's first European Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Mr. Gizo spoke of ATA's role in "building bridges between developed and undeveloped countries -- the have and have-not peoples of the world."
While such bridges span enormous physical, mental and cultural gaps, taking years, even decades to construct, many victories of a smaller, less spectacular nature are occurring on a daily basis. These win-win situations might be compared to the "opening of doors," - whether they be the door to a mud hut, a Sultan's Palace, or even the White House. All are important in the final analysis, like chalk marks on the wall of time. Each symbolic door bears a message as follows:
Door Number one is -- Alleviation
That's a powerful and meaningful proverb, as is the following from ancient China"
"When planning for a year, sow corn; when planning for a decade, plant trees; when planning for a lifetime, train and educate men."
Did you know that ATA is in the training business? That's right -- and its not just the travel agents that we train -- we often carry Africa's message to the doors and halls of government. In every corner of Africa, as in my own country -- community, state and national agencies are waking up to the fact the tourism is strong medicine for their financial health, and like a vast chorus, they're singing the song of sustainability and responsibility. Bookstore shelves are filling up with more and more titles on the topic of Ecotourism, a facet of the industry that ATA was one of the first to recognize and champion.
How time flies - it's hard to realize that December 2002 marks ATA's 6th Ecotourism Symposium, when our delegates return to Morocco, where ATA's Ecotourism Manifesto was first made public. So this year's quest might be called "The Road to Morocco, " -- to borrow a famous movie title -- ATA's grand finale to the International Year of Ecotourism.
As the 21st Century world's largest money earner, tourism is in a pivotal position, with the power, the opportunity and the potential to feed and clothe millions. As a truly sustainable, renewable resource, it transcends all national boundaries, yet its position is fragile. Why? In order to grow and prosper, tourism needs a climate of peace and stability. September the 11th and its aftermath demonstrated in dramatic fashion just how shaky things can become. Tourism feeds on positive attitudes, fueled by cooperation, planning and support from just causes such as IIPT.
Most African destinations visited during our travels over the past 27 years, are blessed with fertile soil and an ideal climate for growing food crops and producing a variety of resource products. The people in these countries are highly creative, inventive, willing and industrious. Education levels are on the increase, infrastructure and transportation facilities are vastly improved, yet many opportunities lie dormant, many dreams remain unfulfilled. What's needed in many cases is some basic funding, backed by sound management.
Fortunately, as we've witnessed in our most recent visits, the computer age, Internet and e-mail is bringing Africa to the forefront rapidly. The younger generation of Africans is taking to technology like ducks to water -- from cell phones to cyber cafes. We know, because we hear from them constantly via the Internet.
While focusing on tourism and education, ATA encourages business partnerships and financial development, as we did in Yaounde, Cameroon last December, staging our 5th Ecotourism Symposium -- adding the words " Commerce and Investment" to its title. Cameroon's Tourism Minister Pierre Hele and President Paul Biya were acutely aware of the fact that in order for tourism to be viable and sustainable, it must fuel the economy.
In response, Cameroonians are actively seeking and following leads on commercial partnerships and investment at all levels. We left Yaounde last December with the feeling that our friends in that warm, hospitable country are on the right track towards their goals. Private sector involvement, with or without government partnership, can go a long way towards generating employment, the first door opening in the alleviation of poverty, given the ripple effect.
Door Number two -- is Community
Belonging to ATA puts our members in a position to see many of these "success stories" taking shape, up close and first hand. During Host country Day in Cape Town last May, our ATA 26th Congress delegates experienced Satour's remarkable "Township Tourism program" as guests at their community center, following a tour of the area. The handicrafts on sale were of outstanding quality and sales were brisk.
A team of ATA sponsored journalists from the USA and Canada took it a step further, spending the night in Khayelitsha Township at several bed and breakfast residences. They raved about the food, the cleanliness, comfortable facilities, warmth and hospitality of b and b operators such as Ma Thope, who has been featured in South African media. Satour's Township Tourism program is a successful core idea -- a blueprint that can work effectively in many Africa countries. Mrs. Thope and her friends in Khayelitsha and other South African townships are earning a good return while providing value -- leaving their guests with an unforgettable experience. In this case, the guests represented U.S. and international audiences and large readerships. And as positive people like to say ... "word of mouth travels fast."
Door Number 3 is Follow Your
Door Number Four -- is
Education is the biggest facet of the Africa Travel Association in developing Peace through Tourism, while at the same time, introducing our members to new experiences, destinations and cultures. Learning another's way of life and beliefs is a major step towards understanding. ATA conducts most of its educational efforts through local chapters -- organizing seminars and workshops, sponsoring visiting groups from Africa, and spreading the word via local media.
Door Number Five -- is Elimination
Door Number Six -- is Total
That's why "The African Diaspora Heritage Trail" project is of such keen interest to the Africa Travel Association. Launched in 2001 by the Bermuda Ministry of Tourism, the project unites people of African descent, wherever they live, and encourages an interchange. Very soon, I will have the opportunity of speaking at an Aviation Conference in Bermuda, hosted by the United States Department of Transportation among others. It will explore new airline routes and increased passenger traffic between the Caribbean Islands and the African continent.
This will spark numerous opportunities for shared projects and promotions &endash; for instance, an island-hopping tour from the USA to Africa via the Caribbean. The opportunities are endless. This is the degree of excitement President Jennifer Smith of Bermuda radiated when she addressed our ATA delegates in Cape Town last May.
Speaking of involvement, 30 African countries are French speaking. In recognition of this important fact, Africa Travel Magazine, the voice of ATA, will be printed in both English and French starting with its next edition. Likewise, viewers will see many more French language features on ATA's fast-growing web site, which is generating thousands of hits every day, amounting to millions annually. By this one forward-looking, all-inclusive gesture, ATA has opened its door to the entire Francophone Community. Imagine the impact on ATA in terms of potential involvement both inside and outside our organization.
Who knows, before long, versions in other languages will be available to our readers and viewers as ATA becomes even more cosmopolitan and international in scope.
Total involvement is carried further by ATA's strategic partnerships within its own industry. Without going into specifics, we are:
an associate member of USTOA - United States Tour Operators Association.
an affiliate member of WTO - the World Tourism Organization
a member of GATTO - Global Alliance of Travel and Tourism Organizations
an allied member of ASTA - American Society of Travel Agents
an industry partner of ARTA - Association of Retail Travel Agents
an industry partner in Green Globe
a founding member of IIPT Coalition of Partners, International Institute for Peace Through Tourism
a member of TIES - The International Ecotourism Society
a founding member of RETOSA - Regional Tourism Organization of
a partner of SATH - Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality
In conclusion, there are many more doors to be opened in the years ahead,
- The Door marked "Alleviation of Poverty"
- The door to Community Betterment
- The Door that says "Follow your Passion."
The Door to Educational Opportunities
The Door marked "Elimination of Prejudice."
The Door to Greater Involvement
Each of us will have the opportunity to get involved in some special way. Thank you ladies and gentlemen for the pleasure of sharing some of the goals we at the Africa Travel Association seek as founding coalition partners of the International Institute for Peace through Tourism.