Tourism could be a game changer for peace in South Asia

For one reason or the other, these are unusually difficult times for countries in our region, our immediate neighbours and fellow constituents for what we may term regional tourism, which is the main crux of tourism anywhere in the world. For countries in the ASEAN region, those in the Middle East and also true of most of Europe, and elsewhere in the world, the bulk of the tourism traffic is regional, stemming from within the region. The Indian sub-continent has failed in this context on its inability to forge a tourism front for travel and tourism within the region. Regional tourism is more predictable, less vulnerable to overnight winds of change, and provides a steady source of visitors for diverse activities. For South Asia, we believe tourism could become an important game changer.

Tourism could be a game changer for peace in South Asia11That is certainly not the only reason why we are stressing how South Asia can move forward with tourism first on its common page. It is well understood that for many of our neighbours, tourism is indeed a very important economic activity – for Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives – and also equally for many of the Indian states adjoining these neighbours – the North East, Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala, among others. Apart from the industry perspective of providing basic numbers for the receiving country, it is the principle of tourismfirst that can possibly change the larger dynamics of the region – bringing people together, giving them an opportunity of creating a people to people contact – deeply creating that window to say how we are similar people, with mutually shared traditions, customs and values.

Many years ago, our parent company put together the first contact in recent history in the area of tourism, organizing a common travel mart for the region in Colombo in 1997. Immediately thereafter, much changed and a realisation dawned among the neighbours that we could become the biggest contributors to tourism in our respective countries. Even more importantly, new friendships emerged and so did mutual trust and good faith. Verily, tourism is the biggest force for bringing peace and prosperity. When people travel, they learn, it is education at first hand.

We recommend an early conference of South Asian countries on how tourism can be augmented within the region. How visas can be liberalised, whatever basis makes for the maximum comfort; without compromising security there can be a beginning. How we can improve connectivity within the region, without which very little headway would be possible. A small start can be made by allowing South Asian carriers to make two country ports of call within a single journey – for instance, allowing Sri Lankan airlines, for instance, to start from Dhaka, or Kathmandu, through an Indian city onto Colombo! Incidentally, Druk Air already does that – from Kolkatta it takes passengers into Kathmandu and then onto Thimphu. In some limited manner, opening up the South Asian skies for South Asian carriers. This small step in itself can provide for a quantum jump in tourism numbers within the region.

As India and Pakistan are set on fresh engagements to mend fences, tourism too could be on the table.

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