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," he said.

"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 areas.

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 advanced.

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 war?

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.


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