Building connections, not walls

By Dennis Bunnik
  • 24 March 2017
  • News

President Trump’s controversial travel ban has made headlines around the world.

Tourism is a lot like politics – when done well it can be an incredible force for good. When done poorly it can be very destructive. Luckily tourism is in a lot better state than politics at the moment.

Recent trips to Tanzania and Egypt have allowed me to experience firsthand how tourism done correctly benefits both the visitor and the local community, and builds bridges between different cultures.

In the small town of Mto Wa Mbu in Tanzania, the local women’s cooperative has established their own tourism business providing tours of the village. The tour starts with lunch at a local home – delicious local food cooked from fresh ingredients grown on the farm. Six different families have become involved so that the benefits are spread as wide as possible.

After lunch we meandered through the village and surrounding farms led by local lady Katherine who explained the various crops and took us for a taste of locally brewed banana beer. What impressed me most about Katherine though is how she encouraged us to interact with the local children, but not to give them sweets or pens or any other gifts as they did not want to instil in them any sort of expectation which would lead to the kids asking tourists for gifts or money. The impact of tourism was being well managed.

The second example took place in the Mohammed Ali Mosque in Cairo. It involved a group of Aussie travellers and a lively discussion on Islam. The discussion took place while we were all sitting on the floor of the most famous mosque in Cairo and was led by our Egyptologist, Abdul.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam and Abdul understood this. Our conversation quickly moved from the basics to more complex issues such as women’s rights and religious freedom. Abdul encouraged us to ask any questions we liked and answered them openly and honestly. He also had a few questions of his own. We all learnt something and felt we had a greater level of understanding.

Both these examples are small scale but they demonstrate what happens when we create connections between different people and cultures. This is the role of tourism – to make the world a smaller place and to build on our similarities and not our differences.

Unfortunately the world of politics is taking us increasingly in a different direction, clearly demonstrated by the recent actions of President Trump. Travel bans don’t make the world a safer place. Instead they create divisions and a ‘them and us’ culture which makes discrimination easier and more acceptable. History tells us that this is not a good thing.

Australians are some of the world’s most avid travellers and the Australian travel industry does a great job in making the world a smaller place.

Over the coming years the politicians will continue to spread fear and doubt. As part of the worldwide travel industry I believe that it is our role to counteract this. Australians are some of the world’s most avid travellers and the Australian travel industry does a great job in making the world a smaller place. By continuing to travel and explore we will build bridges, not walls, and that’s a good thing.

Dennis Bunnik is Chair, Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) and Managing Director of Bunnik Tours.

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