By Dennis Bunnik
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.
Previous 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.
Learning from the locals
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.
At times it feels as though politicians encourage divisions in our global society. 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. I look forward to a day where we can continue to travel and explore again; where we will build bridges, not walls.
Photo Credit: All Images by Dennis Bunnik