World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Respect for people and nature

27 September 2005

Message on the occasion of World Tourism Day, 27 September, 2005

Every year on 27 September, the World Tourism Organization observes World

Tourism Day with special events organized by governments and civil society

groups around the world. Many church groups continue to mark the day with

activities which demonstrate their concerns about contemporary patterns of

tourism. They will point to the fact that the theme of the World Tourism Day in

2005, "Travel and transport: from the imaginary of Jules Verne to the reality of

the 21st century", tends to hide the real impact of tourism on people and nature

in tourism destinations.

The WCC commends the pioneering and cutting edge work of the Eucumenical 

Coalition on Tourism (ECOT) in every region of the world. Underlining the social and ecological

dimensionsof tourism, they observe that tourism, while being a potent force for good, has

sadly turned into an activity that leaves in its trail massive numbers of victims.

Travel can genuinely enrich peoples' lives in encounters that safeguard the dignity

of every person, respect multiple cultural identities, protect and promote

the earth's integrity and thus make tourism a way forward for global understanding,

harmony among people and between people and nature. Understood in such

a way, tourism can contribute to peace and justice in the world, help to overcome

patterns of hatred and violence, and strengthen respect for the wonders of

nature.

As an important economic activity, however, the benefits and burdens of tourism

are very unequally shared. In "receiving countries", mostly situated in the developing

world, patterns of tourism have shown that the benefits of tourism bypass

the local populations. Yet, it is also argued that tourism can help to make poverty

history. The everyday experience of grinding poverty, however, is growing in

the very destinations where tourism is developing rapidly.

The tourism industry is dominated by a small number of enterprises focusing on

high returns. Compared to their profits, only very small amounts of money stay

in the local tourism destinations where even people are often reduced to mere

tools of the leisure-seeking rich. ECOT has shared stories showing how millions

of women and children are abused, cultures denigrated and exploited, and workers

underpaid.

ECOT deplores that nature and wild life are converted into commodities for consumption.

Seas and rivers are often the victims of mega-tourism activities and

enterprises that disregard the most elementary environmental standards while

they callously throw waste into the seas, dump garbage from cruise ships, and

leave coastal communities to fend for themselves when all the damage has been

done. In such forms mass tourism follows the pattern of colonial and imperial

domination and destruction.

For all these reasons, issues of tourism are a matter of acute concern for churches

around the world. It has been so since the 1960s. Yet, the complex, multiple and

wide-reaching social, economic, cultural and environmental fall-out of tourism

must compel churches to be even more alert and responsive, and with a far greater

sense of urgency and intensity than ever before. Denial of human dignity, unjust

distribution of the benefits and disregard of environmental sustainability are

sources of violence and destruction.

We are midway through the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) and member

churches of the WCC have embraced the spirit and intent of this initiative. For

all engaged in the DOV, it must be a strategic choice to recognize the dehumanizing

and violent aspects of tourism, especially in relation to women, children,

marginalized communities, cultures, and the environment. This, in turn, requires

churches to be part of the ongoing processes and wider movements which are

involved in questioning and resisting the negative consequences of commercial

tourism.

Nine months after the tsunami, just when the tourism season starts in the affected

regions, there is another very serious issue at stake that needs our attention.

Despite the many tall claims about reconstruction, and the millions of dollars

being poured into tsunami aid, for too many people little has changed. Tens of

thousands of people see little hope in their lives.

A lesson to be learned from the tsunami is that much of the impact of the tsunami

could have been averted if only the tourism industry along the coastal belts

of the affected countries had been environmentally responsible. The violence of

tourism against nature, as can be witnessed in the destruction of mangroves, sand

dunes, coral reefs, and coconut plantations, are all factors that contributed to the

death of tens of thousands and the destruction of entire community resources.

Natural disasters reflect the imbalance in the relationship between people and

nature. Churches have now the obligation to monitor what the tourism industry

does in the post-tsunami reconstruction processes. This becomes even more crucial

in the wake of reports of the haste with which tourists are lured back to these

already fragile eco-systems without any corrective ecological checks and balances

being put in place.

Peace, Justice and the Care for Creation are central to the work of churches everywhere.

So is hospitality for the stranger and those who travel - as in many traditional

cultures and also other religions around the world. Churches have to pay

attention to how tourism happens and how the tourism industry maintains and

enhances the ecological balance and assumes its social and cultural responsibility

as expressions of the basic care for the dignity of human life and the integrity

of creation.

These are the values which guide the churches in their development activities and

advocacy. For us as Christians, there are lessons to be learned. History will ask us if we were willing to

learn them. The criteria of the judgement of the nations according to the Gospel will be "as much as you

did to one of the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). Let us take action - now.