Kjell & boy

My son, Kjell Redal, shares the delights of instant digital photo review with a new friend in Botswana

Today is World Tourism Day, a chance for countries and citizens around the globe to ponder and celebrate the crucial role of travel in our mutual wellbeing.

With the precarious state of affairs around much of the planet — whether we’re talking about politics, economics, human rights, wildlife welfare or the environment — a good dose of cross-cultural engagement and personal contact with the world’s natural wonders could go a long way toward improving our shared future. And tourism is among the most effective avenues toward expediting those goals.

Established by the United Nations in 1980, the purpose of World Tourism Day — held each year on September 27 — is to foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value. With 940 million tourists crossing international borders in 2010, the important role of tourism is only growing.

This year’s World Tourism Day theme is a celebration of tourism’s role in linking together the cultures of the world through travel. With millions of people traveling the world each year, never before have so many people been to so many places, nor been so exposed to other cultures. This interaction between individuals and communities, and their diverse cultures, leads to tolerance, respect and mutual understanding – the building blocks for a more peaceful world.

Gorilla Trackers

Getting to know your gorilla trackers in Rwanda is often as great a delight as seeing the gorillas themselves. Photo: Kristin Shea

Nations are seeking to draw attention to the value of tourism today with a host of special celebrations. In Jaipur, India, historical monuments have been illuminated. In Rwanda, the government is using the day to encourage domestic travel with the message, ‘Tourism, it begins with YOU.’ And the UN’s World Tourism Organization is sponsoring a photo contest around the theme of how tourism brings people together, with the first-prize winner receiving a 7-day trip to Egypt.

Aswan, Egypt is the site of the event’s main happenings, where tourism leaders are meeting to discuss tourism’s role in linking cultures and fostering international dialogue. Speakers include Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour; the Minister of Tourism of Greece, Pavlos Yeroulanos; the Chief Executive of TUI, Michael Frenzel; UNESCO’s tourism expert, Peter Debrine; the head of the Center for Peace Research and Peace Education at the University of Klagenfurt, Austria, Werner Wintersteiner; the former Minister of Tourism of Indonesia, I. Gde Ardika; founder and managing director of Songa Africa, Rosette Chantal Rugamba; and UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the gathering, remarking that ”there is no better way to learn about a new culture than to experience it first-hand.”

I would say the same thing about nature, and indeed, the two do not exist apart from one another. So, on this World Tourism Day, why not consider which Nat Hab nature adventure you might choose next, in an effort not only to provide yourself a gratifying vacation, but to build bridges as you explore. I can think of no better way to celebrate the value of travel!

Yours in the quest for understanding,