Those of us who believe in the link between travel and peace for years have been a determined but somewhat inconspicuous bunch. While scant research has existed to validate it, we can personally vouch for travel’s impact on our own attitudes and we have continued to build hostels and observe the transformational power of travel at work. That’s changing, most recently in a high profile study released last week by the World Travel and Tourism Council called Tourism as a Driver of Peace, conducted with Steve Killelea from the Institute for Economics and Peace.
While other research has shown how travel and tourism can reduce prejudice among individuals, the WTTC/IEP study analyzes how it influences national institutions, structures and attitudes which create and sustain peaceful societies. Beyond all the data, the study shares some compelling examples. In Myanmar, the government responded to tourism growth by expanding the rights of local communities so they could be involved in and benefit from the tourism sector. In Namibia, local communities developed language and trade skills in response to tourism needs, increasing human capital development. And Israeli eco-tourists visiting Jordan had positively altered perceptions of Jordanian institutions and cultures, compared to a control group that did not travel.
Tourism also was found to help reduce violence and conflict by putting pressure on governments to take positive action to attract and protect travelers. And strong cross-border tourism with an adjoining country creates economic and social ties that reduce the intensity of disputes when they flare.
HI USA hostels and programs amplify what these studies are now finding. In our hostel dorm rooms, the communal kitchen, or a volunteer led walking tour, our guests have the opportunity to explore other cultures even more deeply, with each other and with local community members. We are successful because our hostels and programs are specifically designed to promote conversation and learning.
If travel and tourism as a whole creates a more peaceful society, then our hostel guests are the ambassadors to the movement.