he dinner guests who gathered last
week in a century-old stone house in Ste. Valiere, France, were an
international group: a Canadian economist who recently had attended
the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland; a Frenchman who
owns a bed-and-breakfast in the Minervois wine region; a Lutheran
minister from Copenhagen, Denmark; and the host, an American
landscape artist, now expatriate, living in southwest France.
The topic had turned to travel, tourism and the state of the
world. The economist, whose specialty is in large-scale,
international business opportunities, observed that he viewed
tourism as especially dependent upon local conditions -- a
fragmented industry resting upon a foundation of thousands of
micro-enterprises scattered around the globe.
"Many industries view nations as potential sites for making one
widget or another, and build factories where conditions are most
favorable. If a new area becomes more favorable, they move there,"
"But travel attractions are, for the most part, developed and
promoted by locals. Global companies -- hotel chains, airlines,
tour operators -- may provide infrastructure to facilitate
visitors, but the foundation of tourism is in something inherently
local. The scenery. The culture. An amusement park." He nodded
toward the Frenchman. "Vineyards."
The minister spoke up. "The local enterprises, though, are so
often dependent upon international events. What is going on now
..." He turned to the American host. "I hope I'm not offending you,
but, rational or not, a friend of mine canceled a trip to Turkey
after listening to President Bush's speeches pressuring Iraq. I'm
not saying this as a criticism, only observing that the success of
local efforts so often is dependent upon global activity."
"I'm not worried," said the bed-and-breakfast owner. "Or rather,
I should say that this year, bookings are coming in, even from
Americans. But I know that if something bad happens in Paris --
some terrorism -- it will affect me even though I am hundreds of
kilometers away. The views from my rooms may be beautiful, my wine
will still taste good, but no one will come."
The host faced me. "There is another aspect to all this -- as an
American in France, I am constantly on the defensive. It's easy to
blame what's happening on Americans, and while I don't always like
how Bush presents the American point of view, I think that, in the
absence of a strong U.N., the U.S. must confront Iraq.
"But if we don't use a multilateral approach, anti-Americanism
will spread, and Americans will avoid destinations they consider
unfriendly. That will certainly affect local efforts to promote
tourism in many places."
The conversation stayed with me long after the meal ended. The
dinner occurred while I was en route to the conference in Geneva
organized by the International Institute for Peace through Tourism.
Until now, that organization has subscribed primarily to the
economist's point of view -- that tourism begins locally, and that
one possible route to a more stable world is to use tourism to
create stable local economic opportunities in politically unstable
The institute's founder, Louis D'Amore, observed that if the
only route for upward mobility in a refugee camp is the local
terrorist cell, peace becomes harder to achieve. If, as an
alternative, local tourism efforts can open economic opportunity in
politically insecure areas, the causes of stability and peace are
But does D'Amore's past successes in, for instance, economically
depressed areas of Jordan lose even symbolic meaning when tourism
in Jordan (and the Mideast) dries up in the face of potential
The institute's credibility -- and its ability to attract
corporate supporters such as Six Continents Hotels and American
Express -- depends, in part, upon developing realistic approaches
that can succeed locally.
In a time when the fate of local tourism is so intertwined with
world events, the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism
has never faced a more challenging agenda.