The United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference on "Tourism: a Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation" was concluded on a successful note in Passikudah this week. The high profile conference which was organised by the Ministry of Tourism Development and Sri Lanka Tourism was held from the 11th to the 13th of July 2016 at Amaya Beach Resort, Passikudah. This was the first time an international conference was held in the Eastern Province after the war and showcased the tourism potential of the east coast.
The two-day conference discussed the contribution of tourism development to peace and reconciliation, local community involvement and peace sensitive tourism, public private partnerships and peace tourism, and marketing and rebranding of post-conflict destinations.
The conference concluded with the signing of the Private Sector Commitment to the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism which was witnessed by the Secretary General of UNWTO Mr. Taleb Rifai and Minister of Tourism Development, Lands and Christian Religious Affairs, Hon. John Amaratunga.
Each of the topics was discussed by an eminent group of panellists consisting of industry experts drawn from all over the globe. Over 60 international delegates and other VIP delegates from Sri Lanka participated in the deliberations. They included, Secretary General of the UNWTO, Mr. Taleb Rifai, HRH Princes Dana Firas of Jordan, Minister of Tourism Development, Lands and Christian Religious Affairs, Hon. John Amaratunga, Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Hon. Nazeer Ahamed, Deputy Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs, Hon. Arundika Fernando, Deputy Minister of Tourism of Cambodia, Chantha Tith, Member of the European Parliament, Hon. Istvan Ujhelyi, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Mr. Janaka Sugathadasa, Chairman, Sri Lanka Tourism, Mr. Paddy Withana, UNWTO Regional Director for Asia Pacific, Xu Jing, CEO of Asia Pacific Travel Association, Dr. Mario Hardy, Executive Chairman, China Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Peter Wong, Executive Director, Japan Association of Travel Agents, Mr. Hiroshi Sawabe, UNWTO Chief of Communications, Ms. Sandra Carvao, Head of Destination Marketing, TripAdvisor, Ms. Sarah Mathews, Executive Editor, Travel Impact Newswire, Mr. Imtiaz Muqbil, Editor of Pro Traveller Magazine and Globetrotter Television, Mr. Trevor Claringbold, Sales Director CNN India and South Asia, Ms. Sonali Chatterjee, many other foreign and local tourism experts, and media delegates.
Speaking at the Conference Tourism Development Minister Hon. John Amaratunga drew attention to the power of tourism to unite communities. “There is no other industry that brings together people than the tourism industry. Tourism is an industry that has the power and the potential to transform entire communities in a relatively short period of time. The economic benefits of tourism are felt far and wide beyond the local communities. In fact our national economy is dependent on the success of this industry for its economic survival.”
The Minister added “The revenue that we earn from this industry is the peace dividend that the country has received with the end of the conflict. The government is determined to ensure that this dividend is first enjoyed by those who were at the receiving end during the war. In other words we want the local community to be the biggest beneficiary of the peace dividend.”
UNWTO Secretary General Mr. Taleb Rifai said that when Tourism Minister Hon. John Amaratunga proposed to him to have the conference in Passikudah a few months back he jumped at the idea because Passikudah offered the best example of how tourism had become a catalyst for development, peace and reconciliation. He noted, “we are in the right place at the right time,” adding that the “deficit of tolerance can be healed through tourism where people get a better perspective of communities.”
The Secretary General cited Croatia and Cambodia as examples of this ‘healing’ and called on the government to integrate tourism in national development and reconciliation. “Make that deliberate decision to place peace at the heart of the tourism agenda. Winning the minds and hearts of the young generation is of the utmost importance. Travel is the language of peace and our core business is to make the world a better place,” said Mr. Rifai.
Chief Minister of the Eastern Province Hon. Nazeer Ahamed said that the Eastern Province was poised for rapid economic growth driven largely by the tourism industry. Citing an example he said that the current room strength in the east coast which stood at 1300 will increase to 7000 in five years. “The east is a living example of how tourism has become a catalyst in development, peace and reconciliation. It is building our local economy while bringing communities together. People who never spoke to each other for three decades are now sitting at the same table because of the common interest in tourism. All stakeholders including the politicians, public and private sectors and most importantly the local community are involved in this discourse,” he said.
The foreign delegates who arrived in Colombo to attend the conference were transferred to Passikudah by a special train. On completion of the conference the foreign delegates undertook technical visits to Trincomalee and Jaffna to get a first-hand experience of how tourism is transforming the region. These arrangements were facilitated by Sri Lanka Tourism and came in for high praise by the delegates.