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Thursday, July 2, 2015

One billion tourists, one billion opportunities

Vatican City, 2 July 2015 (VIS) - “One billion tourists, one billion opportunities” is the title of the Message for World Tourism Day 2015 (27 September), published today by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. The Message, dated 24 June, was signed by Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio and Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil, respectively president and secretary of the dicastery.

The document, as its title indicates, focuses on the opportunities and challenges that the great increase in tourism represents for contemporary society and notes that the concept of the “tourist” is increasingly being substituted by that of the “traveller”, who does not merely visit a place but rather, in a sense, becomes an integral part of it. In the light of Pope Francis' Encyclical “Laudato si'”, the Message highlights that the tourism sector, by promoting appreciation of natural and cultural wealth, can promote their conservation or, paradoxically, their destruction. The Message finally invites the transformation of travel into “an existential experience”.

“It was 2012 when the symbolic barrier of one billion international tourist arrivals was surpassed. Now the numbers continue to grow so much that the forecasts estimate a new threshold of two billion will be reached in 2030. To this data even higher figures related to local tourism must be added.

For World Tourism Day we want to concentrate on the opportunities and challenges raised by these statistics, and for this we make the theme proposed by the World Tourism Organisation our own: 'One billion tourists, one billion opportunities'.

This growth launches a challenge to all the sectors involved in this global phenomenon: tourists, businesses, governments and local communities and, of course, the Church too. The billion tourists should necessarily be considered above all in their billion opportunities.
This message is being made public a few days after the presentation of Pope Francis' Encyclical Laudato si’ dedicated to care for our common home. We need to take this text into great consideration because it offers important guidelines to follow in our attention to the world of tourism.

We are in a phase of change in which the way of moving is changing and consequently the experience of travelling as well. Those who go to countries different from their own do so with the more or less conscious desire to reawaken the most hidden part of themselves through encounter, sharing and confrontation. More and more, a tourist is in search of direct contact with what is different in its extra-ordinariness.

By now the classic concept of a 'tourist' is fading while that of a 'traveller' has become stronger: that is, someone who does not limit himself to visiting a place but in some way becomes an integral part of it. The 'citizen of the world' is born: no longer to see but to belong, not to look around but to experience, no longer to analyse but to take part in, and not without respect for what and whom he encounters.

In his latest Encyclical, Pope Francis invites us to approach nature with 'openness to awe and wonder' and to speak 'the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world'. This is the right approach to adopt with regard to the places and peoples we visit. This is the road to seizing a billion opportunities and making them bear even more fruits.

The businesses in this sector are the first ones who should be committed to achieving the common good. The responsibilities of companies is great, also in the tourist area, and to take advantage of the billion opportunities they need to be aware of this. The final objective should not be profit as much as offering travellers accessible roads to achieving the experience they are looking for. And businesses have to do this with respect for people and the environment. It is important not to lose awareness of people's faces. Tourists cannot be reduced only to a statistic or a source of revenue. Forms of tourist business need to be implemented that are studied with and for individuals and invest in individuals and sustainability so as to offer work opportunities in respect for our common home.

At the same time, governments have to guarantee respect for the laws and create new ones that can protect the dignity of individuals, communities and the territory. A resolute attitude is essential. Also in the tourist area, the civil authorities of the different countries need to have shared strategies to create globalised socio-economic networks in favour of local communities and travellers in order to take positive advantage of the billion opportunities offered by the interaction.

From this viewpoint, also the local communities are called to open up their borders to welcome those who come from other countries moved by a thirst for knowledge, a unique occasion for reciprocal enrichment and common growth. Giving hospitality enables the environmental, social and cultural potentialities to bear fruit, to create new jobs, to develop one's identity, and to bring out the value of the territory. A billion opportunities for progress, especially for countries that are still developing. To increase tourism, especially in its most responsible forms, makes it possible to head towards the future strong with one's specificity, history and culture. Generating income and promoting the specific heritage can reawaken that sense of pride and self-esteem useful for strengthening the host communities' dignity, but care is always needed to not betray the territory, traditions and identity in favour of the tourists. It is in the local communities where there can grow 'a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren'.

One billion tourists, if well received, can become an important source of well-being and sustainable development for the entire planet. Moreover, the globalisation of tourism leads to the rise of an individual and collective civic sense. Each traveller, by adopting a more correct criterion for moving around the world, becomes an active part in safeguarding the earth. One individual's effort multiplied by a billion becomes a great revolution.

On a voyage, a desire for authenticity is also hidden which is realised in the spontaneity of relations and getting involved in the communities visited. The need is growing to get away from the virtual, which is so capable of creating distances and impersonal acquaintances, and to rediscover the genuineness of an encounter with others. The economy of sharing can also build a network through which humanity and fraternity increase and can generate a fair exchange of goods and services.

Tourism also represents a billion opportunities for the Church's evangelising mission. 'Nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts'. First of all, it is important for the Church to accompany Catholics with liturgical and formative proposals. She should also illuminate those who during the experience of travelling open their hearts and ask themselves questions and in this way make a real first proclamation of the Gospel. It is essential for the Church to go forth and be close to travellers in order to offer an appropriate and individual answer to their inner search. By opening her heart to others, the Church makes a more authentic encounter with God possible. With this goal, hospitality by the parish communities and the religious formation of tourist personnel should be enhanced.

The Church's task is also to educate to living free time. The Holy Father reminds us that 'Christian spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity. We tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary, but this is to do away with the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning. We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity, which is quite different from mere inactivity'.

Moreover, we should not forget Pope Francis' convocation to celebrate the Holy Year of Mercy. We have to ask ourselves how the pastoral care of tourism and pilgrimages can be an area to 'experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope'. A particular sign of this jubilee time will undoubtedly be the pilgrimage.

Faithful to her mission and starting from the conviction that 'we also evangelize when we attempt to confront the various challenges which can arise', the Church cooperates in making tourism a means for the development of peoples, especially the most disadvantaged ones, and setting in motion simple but effective projects. However, the Church and institutions should always be vigilant to prevent a billion opportunities from becoming a billion dangers by cooperating in the safeguard of personal dignity, workers' rights, cultural identity, respect for the environment, and so on.

One billion opportunities also for the environment: 'The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God'. Between tourism and the environment there is a close interdependency. The tourist sector, by taking advantage of the natural and cultural riches, can promote their conservation or, paradoxically, their destruction. In this relationship, the Encyclical Laudato si’ appears to be a good travelling companion.

Many times we pretend we do not see the problem. 'Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption'. By acting not as masters but with 'responsible stewardship', each one has his or her obligations that must be made concrete in precise actions that range from specific, coordinated legislation down to simple everyday actions, passing through appropriate educational programs and sustainable and respectful tourist projects. Everything has its importance, but a change in lifestyles and attitudes is necessary and surely more important. 'Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little'.

The tourism sector can be an opportunity, indeed, one billion opportunities for building roads to peace too. Encounter, exchange and sharing favour harmony and understanding.
There are one billion occasions to transform a voyage into an existential experience. One billion possibilities to become the makers of a better world, aware of the riches contained in every traveller's suitcase. One billion tourists, one billion opportunities to become 'instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness'”.

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