Getting acquainted with the social significance and impact of tourism as a global activity usually begins with the assessment that tourism is a very important factor in preserving peace in the world. Such a claim is explained by the contribution of tourism to a better understanding between people belonging to different countries, cultures, and religions. The explanation is, therefore, relatively simple. The more people, as tourists, get to know each other, the greater are the chances that they will experience the world as a global homeland and that they will fight for good relations between states and peoples. It is the right time to ask ourselves whether this relatively simple explanation is also true and whether, as in some other cases, we may be overestimating the real significance, impact, and scope of tourism? We are directly motivated by a series of war activities, which have taken place and are now taking place all over the world. Can and to what extent can tourism and everything related to tourism influence the decision-making process on war and peace, and to what extent is its role based on realistic grounds?

There is no doubt that travel and what is meant today by tourism in the broadest sense of the word, as well as written testimonies of these travels, have done more to create connections and mutual understanding between different people from all over the world than any other individual activity through a long period of civilization. Getting to know other people during the trip, especially the locals, and getting to know their way of life can be a key incentive to remove the prejudices and stereotypes we have about other peoples, cultures, and religions.

One of the first official confirmations of the role of tourism as a factor of peace and understanding came from the United Nations. This global organization declared 1967 the International Year of Tourism with the motto “Tourism – a passport of peace”. The initiative was supported by many countries, including the then SFR Yugoslavia. In that year, visas for foreign tourists were abolished, which was another incentive for the tourism development, from which the SFR Yugoslavia expected a lot.

The same year – 1967, apart from this initiative, was also marked by the war in one of the most tourist-attractive regions – the Middle East. One noble idea and the efforts for its realization were immediately endangered in a drastic way – by the war. This cruelly shows the real achievements, not only of declarations and proclamations but also of serious practical actions when faced with the relentless reality of a divided world. Of course, we could cite more similar examples, especially those related to the underdeveloped part of the world in which, coincidentally or not, are the most valuable resources for tourism development.

The importance of peace for tourism and the importance of tourism for peacebuilding has encouraged the establishment of an appropriate organization – the International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT). The Institute was established in 1986 as part of the celebration of the United Nations International Year of Peace. The main goal of the IIPT is to disseminate and facilitate initiatives within tourism that contribute to international understanding and cooperation, improve the quality of the environment, protect cultural heritage, and reduce poverty. This would contribute to the realization of a peaceful and sustainable world. The work of IIPT is based on the vision that tourism, as the world’s largest industry, will become the first global peace industry, an industry that promotes and supports the belief that every traveller is potentially a “Peace Ambassador”.

Since its founding, IIPT has brought together global leaders from all sectors in the field of tourism, as well as in the fields of culture, cultural heritage, environment, and development, primarily at three global conferences (Vancouver 1988, Montreal 1994 and Glasgow 1999). The first global summit on peace through tourism was held in 2000 in Amman, Jordan, in support of the UN International Year for a Culture of Peace and the Peace Process in the Middle East and other regions of the world. The Summit adopted the Amman Declaration, which was ratified by the representatives of 60 countries, and which was accepted as an official document of the United Nations. Other results of this Summit include the establishment of the “Coalition of Partners for World Peace through Tourism”, three international networks (Teachers, Rural Tourism and Community-Based Tourism as well as Spirituality and Tourism), and the introduction of the Global Peace Parks Project. Global summits on peace through tourism were held in Switzerland in 2003 and in Thailand in 2005. In addition to these gatherings, IIPT has participated in the organization of several regional conferences dedicated to the importance of achieving peace through tourism, especially in Africa. The overall activities of IIPT were aimed at creating a basis for networking and establishing partnerships to achieve the vision of creating a culture of peace through tourism.

One of the important parts of the overall activities of IIPT is the establishment of global peace parks and peace cities. Their goal is to be committed to creating a culture of peace.

The author of these lines had the opportunity to participate at a number of meetings organized by IIPT, presenting his papers related to various aspects of peace through tourism, as well as education for a culture of peace through tourism. In this sense, he participated in the following IIPT meetings: II Global Conference (Montreal, 1994), II Global Summit, (Geneva, 2003), I European IIPT Conference (Leeuwarden, 2008) and IIPT World Symposium (Johannesburg, 2014), as well as in the work of the online conference IIPT ZOOM Family Meeting (2021). It was always useful and worthwhile to listen to the participants of plenary sessions, forums, panels and during informal talks, and to acquaint them with our experiences about tourism during the peace, in the war “out of war” and in the real war. In any case, we have a unique experience, more or less similar to other countries of the former SFR Yugoslavia and the region. This experience is interesting and instructive for others, and it is worth sharing – as a message and a warning.

Are the activities of the IIPT and the whole idea interesting and important for us and the region to which we belong? The answer is certainly obvious – the infested Balkan areas, rich in tourist resources, especially natural ones, and inhabited by a hospitable population, often turn into a region of wars and hatred. We hope that such cycles are over and that the orientation of everyone in the region towards Europe will enable long-term sustainable development.

There is no need to explain the possible role and importance of tourism in this process. One of its important roles could be to create a basis for renewing and expanding mutual understanding between people in the region who belong to different nations, cultures, and religions. For that, it is necessary, first of all, to enable the movement of people completely without obstacles and to turn to the future. In this regard, it is certain that there will be places for the establishment and activities of organizations such as the International Institute for Peace through Tourism. Although their actions sometimes seem symbolic, the step-by-step policy implemented by IIPT is the only real answer to the complexity of the modern world and a mean to achieve a vision of building sustainable peace through tourism.

Obstacles that normally arise in connection with the work of the IIPT, as well as war conflicts that start or recur in different parts of the world, should not be understood as a sign of the fragility of the very idea of ​​achieving peace through tourism. Simply put, it must be acknowledged that tourism still lacks the strength to oppose the forces and motives underlying modern wars. But tourism and those who deal with it prove that they have the strength and will to create the basis for shaping a culture of peace through tourism. The comprehensive activity of the International Institute for Peace through Tourism best confirms this.

Deeply believing in the power of striving to build a culture of peace through tourism, based on fulfilling the conditions set by IIPT related to the establishment of its constituent parts (chapter), at the beginning of May 2021 the Institute for Peace through Tourism in Serbia – IIPT Serbia was founded. We want to contribute to the spread of a culture of peace in general, especially in relation to the role of tourism in this process, as well as in cooperation with similar organizations from the wider region to which we belong, to influence the spread of this idea within the space traditionally associated with divisions. which are often tried to be resolved through war or exist as constantly present disputes “until the next war”.       

Jovan Popesku
President and Founder of IIPT Serbia