Thank you, Dr. Brown and Good Morning. My warm thanks to IIPT founder & President Louis D’Amore for your kind invitation to participate in this important conference and to Peter de Jong of PATA for your encouragement of our participation.
I am honored to be in the company of Dr. Kim Hak Su, The Honorable Mr. Pande and Mr. Zecha on this prestigious panel. Their remarks have been very enlightening. I want you to know that it is a real pleasure to be with you today to share ASTA’s perspective on tourism in the service of humanity and the earth. And as I share with you what ASTA has done, I am pleased to say that from the US Travel Agents perspective, I hope you will recognize the encouraging reinforcement of the goals of this fine organization.
The American writer and humorist Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” No one knows that more than those of us in the travel industry. Travel opens people’s eyes to the beauty of other cultures and most certainly promotes peace. There are several trends that I want to share with you today that I think demonstrate a world that is increasingly sensitive to the value of travel and tourism. These trends include ecotourism, volunteer vacations and increased travel among those who combine business and leisure travel.
At ASTA, one of the ways we recognize the value of promoting peace through tourism is through our Environmental Awards.
About 15 years ago, ASTA created an Environmental Award to recognize a company, individual or country for achievements in conservation and preservation of the planet.
I would like to share with you several anecdotes about recent award winners:
Ø Karakorum Expeditions Mongolia Ltd. is an excellent model for eco-tourism projects around the world. Its program aimed at conserving snow leopards in Mongolia, shows how successful a partnership between a tour operator and conservation organization can be.
Ø In May 2000, Karakorum teamed up with Irbis Enterprises, a Mongolian non-governmental organization dedicated to snow leopard conservation. Karakorum and Irbis worked to build a tourism program that focused on scientific and community conservation efforts. It also provided direct financial support for communities in snow leopard habitats. Additionally, the program sought to promote the conservation efforts in Mongolia.
Ø Another award winner and place I have personally visited, The Gamboa Rainforest Resort, is an excellent example of sustainable tourism. The resort’s mission is to develop Panama as a tourist destination but not at the expense of its people or the environment.
The resort boasts premier learning facilities and directly supports the Emberà Indians through job opportunities and the chance to sell their handicrafts to tourists.
Ø Knowing that the goals of the owners of this resort include giving opportunity to the Indigenous people of Panama makes it a very strong priority for me to continue to send guests to this destination.
Ø Wilderness Safaris works to ensure that its activities protect the land, while giving back to the local communities so they can, in turn, conserve and nurture their heritage. Wilderness Safaris manages 2.5 million acres of land across six countries in Southern Africa according to the stringent conservation regulations. Its core philosophy is to ensure that Southern Africa’s most pristine wilderness and wildlife areas remain sustainably protected while delivering great experiences for guests. Revenue is shared with the governments, villagers and communities on the periphery of the wilderness areas and reserves.
Ø My final example of our Environmental Award winners is Xanterra’s Parks & Resorts, which has become a wonderful example of continuing improvement in environmental performance. This U.S. company’s disclosure of all its environmental impacts, positive and negative, shows how serious it is about environmental responsibility and public accountability to people living in the surrounding areas.
The work that these organizations do is instrumental in helping travelers better understand our fragile earth for all of us to share but also to cultivate the best of local heritage.
ASTA salutes our award winners!!!!
Our website, ASTAnet.com, has a document called ASTA’s Ten Commandments on Responsible Tourism. In the interest of time, I won’t read all 10 commandments. But I’ll tell you they include suggestions like:
Ø Respect the frailty of the earth and leave only your footprints.
Ø Educate yourself about the geography, customs, manners and cultures of the region you visit.
Ø And, patronize and encourage organizations such as hotels, airlines, resorts, cruise lines, tour operators and suppliers to subscribe to environmental guidelines.
These “Suggestions” are very comparable to the CREDO of IIPT and I would love to explore ways that our organizations can work together more closely to spread this message to the consumer. In addition to seeing increased numbers of eco-friendly companies such as our award winners, we hear encouraging things about travelers who aren’t just looking for a beautiful beach and tropical drinks when they vacation.
They’re looking for opportunities to serve others as they see the world.
According to AgeWave, a San Francisco-based think tank that studies the impact of aging on society, the new echo boomer generation (those born between 1981 and 2000) is made up of sophisticated youth who have traveled more than any other generation.
They know what they want and are savvy about getting it. They, like their parents will continue to travel. They like diversity and things that are interesting and exciting. They are interested in exploring exotic places and most importantly in giving back. Volunteer vacations will be big for them!!
Here is one example of how this phenomenon shows up in tourism. Tauck Tours responded to the boom in multi-generational travel by creating its Bridges division specifically for families.
Tauck say how much enjoyment grandparents had traveling with their kids and grandchildren and started the division. They trained tour directors specifically to handle children on trips. They are now designing tours to make sure that the trips are enriching for the entire family. They are exposing families to new cultures and taking people outside of their normal comfort level.
For example, on Tauck’s national parks tours, families actually do some volunteer work with Native American Indians. They get people involved so when they go home they feel good that they’ve learned something new about people.
Other organizations that allow travelers to experience the local culture and do community service projects are Amizade, which lines up short and long-term community service projects in 11 countries.
There is also Explorations in Travel, who makes short-term individual placements with ecological, conservation and service projects in Ecuador, Puerto Rico, New Zealand and other locations.
Both of these organizations bring people together to help in projects but there is not question that the opportunity to experience diversity makes both sides smarter about the world we live in.
My last point focuses on travel as an integral part of how business is done. Business people meet clients in other cities. Conferences, like this one, bring colleagues together from around the world for professional development or information exchange. We enjoy strong networking opportunities by sharing these events.
People want to travel, and people will travel. It is part of who we are as humans. We are curious about new places. We want to want to meet new people, taste different foods, hear new music, and experience other cultures. And through this travel we learn to accept the rest of the world.
As we move into the future, we must ensure the safety of those who exercise their freedom to travel. We must protect the role that travel plays in the world economy.
Crises such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Tsunami last December and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and again in Bali also bring into sharp focus just how critical travel and tourism is to all of our economies.
The world’s travel and tourism industry believes that travel is a precious freedom to be preserved. ASTA is proud to be among other organizations that promote ecotourism, encourage cultural exchanges, better understanding and share goals that include travel as a Passport to Peace!
I am so very impressed with the vision of the people attending this conference and the caliber of attendees who are so selfless in pursuing the exceptional goals of the IIPT Credo. I want you to know that this eye-opening experience will help me carry your very special agenda to the Board of Directors of my Association to consider becoming a strong coalition partner in your organization and I can also tell all of you – as I shared with Lou D’Amour – your goals are very consistent with the concerns and strategies that are being developed by the TIA – The Travel Industry Association of America. While I can’t totally speak for my Board of Directors, and I would never assume to speak for the Board of TIA – I can tell you that the new head of the TIA cares very much about Peace through Tourism. Roger Dow has personally told me that while we all have different cultures, languages and religious beliefs, at the heart of our lives we each have our own families with the same issues and priorities, we all have aging parents, house payments and we all want the best opportunities for our children. It’s all one Earth and one family! A wonderful vision and a win-win for all of us. We’re absolutely in sync.