Can the diverse experiences of hundreds of seasoned CEOs and a score of aspiring young travelers from New York City somehow converge to change the way people think about travel as cultural exchange and learning? I now see the possibilities.
It began with two days in early April at the 2016 Global Summit on Travel and Tourism, an annual gathering of 400 business and government leaders from around the world. The theme, Travel Beyond Boundaries, well described the scope of issues on the agenda but couldn't fully reflect the weight Brussels and Paris terrorism would have on the proceedings.
Various speakers shared hopeful remarks, none more so than Institute for Economic and Peace founder Steve Kilea who explored the link between tourism and peace. UNWTO Secretary General Talib Rifai urged public-private sector cooperation. US Commerce Secretary Penny Prizker addressed governmental initiatives and Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, reassured travel's most senior leaders about border security.
Yet the dialogue felt incomplete to me: what responsibility do we in the travel community have to try to improve the situation, rather than simply react to terrorist incidents?
Here's where serendipity intervened:
The day following the summit I was at Hostelling International-New York City to present 20 $2000 scholarships to worthy college-aged residents whose applications had persuaded a community panel that they should be funded for learning and travel abroad. The optimism, energy and plans of these first time travelers left a deep impression.
Passion can be tapped for many purposes. Those 20 young people from NYC now can stretch and pursue their dreams to travel, while making a lasting impact on the places they're visiting and bringing broadened perspectives back home.
So how can you and I make a difference? Those of us who travel already do it through the choices we make - where we decide to visit and our spending choices once we get there. And we all can encourage and support a rainbow of young people to engage in learning through travel, because they are the ones whose passions will increasingly influence the direction our world takes.
And circling back to my CEO colleagues at the Global Summit: now seems the time to elevate "promotion of cultural exchange and learning" as a priority for corporate strategic plans and social responsibility programs, and then to actively invest in it. Sudden? Perhaps, but not unprecedented. My hunch is environmental concerns were similarly under-represented in corporate thinking as recently as a decade ago. Of course that changed with proof of increasing climate disruption. The roots of global violence are perceptible.
We all have a stake in a more stable, peaceful world. Acting on it in a way that engages and educates our upcoming global generation is an investment we all should embrace.