By Ramu Damodaran*
NEW YORK | 14 October 2023 (IDN) — Among all the conditions that convened at the creation of the United Nations, and have sustained what will be its 78 years on October 24, none was as unequivocal and decisive as that of trust, the trust demanded between States and invested by them in a world order, the trust extended to, and reciprocated by, governments from their peoples, the trust that saw a global organization as a means to extend, and not inhibit, the promise and possibilities of national sovereignty.
But, above all, trust was about bringing people together, at the person-to-person level, particularly through travel and education, a trust that would be the most secure guarantor of peace. As the United Nations General Assembly recognized in 2019 when it declared 2021 as the “International Year of Peace and Trust”, qualities which “entail accepting differences and having the ability to listen to, recognize, respect and appreciate others, as well as living in a peaceful and united way.”
Within months of the resolution’s adoption, and well before 2021, the pandemic was upon us, demanding trust in fresher forms, the trust in citizens to behave responsibly towards each other, to protect as much as be protected, the trust in science and vaccine to immunize, the trust in access to them being equitable and not equivocal. And the trust to refashion ways of life until then predictable and the trust to refashion them once danger had passed.
Few areas demanded that trust as vividly as the global tourism and hospitality industry. And it is “Tourism and Hospitality in the Post-Pandemic Era” that will be the theme for Impact2023, this year’s conference in the annual series hosted by the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
It bears remembering that the very first Impact conference, in 2020, took place at the height of the pandemic which, in the words of the School’s Dean, Dr Kaye Chon, offered “the perfect example of resourcefulness; wholly student-organized, the conference was delivered both online and offline, allowing delegates the world over to find new paths out of crisis. Students saved the day again when they stepped in to helm the APacCHRIE 2020 Conference and Youth Conference, initially cancelled due to COVID-19.”
In another instance of minds being educated spurred by crisis to educate, Dr Back Ki-Joon has written about how the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, where he holds a Distinguished Chair, in partnership with Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals, “challenged students in hospitality programmes around the world to develop strategies for tourism recovery. A total of 29 entries from 32 tourism and hospitality schools introduced solutions that can immediately incorporate, measure effectively and, ideally, improve operations while providing essential assistance on the road to recovery.”
In their tenacity at the time, students as much as faculty gave life to the assertion by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres that tourism could “be a platform for overcoming the pandemic. By bringing people together, tourism can promote solidarity and trust—crucial ingredients in advancing the global cooperation that is so urgently needed at this time.”
World Tourism Organization
Or, as Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili of the United Nations World Tourism Organization phrased it, “as the ultimate person-to-person sector, and one that promotes solidarity and friendship, tourism will play a key role in spreading trust more widely, with benefits traveling far beyond tourism itself. Only this way can we drive our economies back towards growth and start rebuilding our societies.”
Rereading those thoughts, the mind returns to recollection of that year and its future unknown, its shine dimmed and then slowly, oh so slowly, restored each passing day, but still in danger of eclipse by the competition for resources (read vaccines) and of people not tolerating people (read violence against targeted individuals and groups).
In the words of the title of a paper Dr Kaye Chon coauthored with Dr Fei Hao, we now have opportunity to bridge “Customer Equity, Experience, Delight, Satisfaction, and Trust,” elements central to revived tourism and hospitality on a reviving planet where, as Tennyson put it, in Ulysses, “all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.”
Looking from Impact2023 to the gentleness of the ocean beyond, we have the mariner’s opportunity to see their waters not as vast dividers but connectors, Tennyson’s fading margin not the haziness of horizon but the blurring of boundary, the 70% of the earth’s surface they cover bringing the remaining thirty closer to each other, their traverse in itself the forging of familiarity and friendship with the unknown, whether of lands or language, life or lore, personifying each voyager , in the words of poet Rumi, that “you are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean, in a drop.”
International Civil Aviation Day
And, as we commemorate International Civil Aviation Day on December 7, at the opening of the conference, we realise we may well have sacrificed the Magellanian magic of circumnavigating stormy seas by the expedience of flying above them, or by diminishing distances digitally, but the destinations of geography and of the mind endure in their seeking, glimmering, like twilight on tender tide, in the assurance that they will be points from which we will return home, enriched by the trust we have extended, the trust we have received, much as governments do when they return to national endeavours strengthened by those that are international, inter-people—and in trust.
Image: Link to UN observances calendar. Credit: United Nations
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