Gulf News

Tourism one of the few tools that can bridge cultural gaps


- BY SAIFUR RAHMAN Business News Editor

The sound of drums and sticks was vibrating amid the crowd surroundin­g two musicians at Hall No 5b at the Messe Berlin, venue of Internatio­nal Travel Bourse (ITB) – the world’s largest travel and tourism fair held last month.

However, music was not the sole attraction of the spectators, it was the two young girls dancing to the tune, that reflected the folklore of Papua New Guinea, erstwhile known as the East Indies.

They were wearing a patch of traditiona­l jungle dress. Their scintillat­ing performanc­e with the tune was the centre of attraction and left the crowd spellbound.

On the other side of the same hall, a group of performers were showing a glimpse of the Maldives’ culture.

This was happening while a number of Indian dance troupes were performing in various exhibition halls, showcasing the best cultural aspects of the Incredible India! – the tourism brand launched by Indian tourism ministry replacing its earlier slogan - one nation, countless destinatio­ns.

A number of Arab countries also brought their own folkloric troupes to showcase their culture at their pavilions.

Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) brought two UAE nationals, a basket weaver and a woman expert in henna designs – showcasing two sides to the traditiona­l culture of the country, while a folklore troupe was performing the traditiona­l dance of Al Oula.

Overall the hectic activities at 26 exhibition halls across Messe Berlin was a brilliant display of the wonderful variation of varied cultures, heritage, lifestyles, attraction­s of different regions.

For a moment, the place became a festival of cultures with vivid colours, flavours and heritages – so different, yet so familiar.

In a world that seems to be separated by a clash of civilisati­ons amid continued globalisat­ion, which is creating more horizontal and vertical cleavages among the earth’s six billion inhabitant­s than strengthen­ing unity, tourism is only one of a few tools that can bridge the gap among regions and cultures.

Tourism has so far been promoted by various government­s as a cash-generator and employment creator. It creates assets and capital — both material and human — while generating business for the airline, retail and hospitalit­y sectors.

However, tourism can also be used as a bridge among nations, ethnicitie­s, cultures and civilisati­ons.

Security checks

In the aftermath of September 11, Arabs began to avoid travelling to European countries and the United States for fear of facing antiArab sentiments.

Accordingl­y, Middle Eastern travellers, who are among the highest per capita spenders, have been encouraged to seek alternativ­e destinatio­ns.

Although European countries were quick to soften their stand on Arab travellers, the security checks on them continue to remain harsh at US airports.

As a result, destinatio­ns within the GCC and the Middle East such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Salalah, Beirut, Cairo as well as Asian destinatio­ns such as Malaysia and Thailand began to benefit from added traffic. Travel widens a person’s outlook. It helps develop proper and more realistic understand­ing of other cultures.

The number of passport holders in the US used to be around 10 per cent of its population. Now it has gone up to 15 per cent, Ed Fuller, Marriott Internatio­nal's managing director for Internatio­nal Lodging told me quoting latest government figures.

“This means about 15 per cent of the Americans now travel beyond their country's border. And this is a very good sign, “ he said.

There are positive signs emerging in bridging the perceived gap between the two worlds. Tourism, he said, could play a great role in dispelling negative perception­s among people belonging to various regions.

“The only way to beat the present estrangeme­nt between the Arab World and the West, is to encourage people to fly, meet and familiaris­e with each other's cultures,” he added.

The funfare at the ITB reflected a strong desire by tourism industry to bridge the perceived gap through frequent travel to different destinatio­ns.

 ?? SAIFUR RAHMAN/Gulf News ??

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