By PERCY MABVUTO-NGWIRA –
Tourism and travel have become one of the largest and most important industries in the world today.
According to preliminary figures released in January 2019 by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), 2018 totalled 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals (+6 per cent), consolidating 2017 results and proving to be the second strongest year since 2010.
Middle East (+10 per cent) with international tourist arrivals, reaching 64 million, and Africa (+7 per cent), reaching an estimated 67 million arrivals grew above the world average while Asia and the Pacific recording 343 million international tourist arrivals and Europe grew at 6 per cent, translating into 713 million arrivals respectively.
For 2019, UNWTO forecasts a 3-4 per cent increase, in line with the historical growth trend.
With over a billion tourists travelling around the world annually, one would surely ask as to who more sturdily shapes the foreign public opinion of a country between tourists and diplomatic officials.
It is probably a difficult question to answer.
However, a case can be made for tourism if one thinks of the massive difference in scale between tourism and public diplomacy.
International tourism is a multimillion-dollar industry that involves billions of people moving around the globe.
Arguably, public diplomacy activities can only brace in comparison.
According to World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC), travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest industries with a direct contribution to global GDP of USD2,570.1bn (3.2 per cent of total GDP) in 2017.
A number of countries, such as France, Spain and the United States (US), are consistently popular tourism destinations, but other, less well-known countries are quickly emerging in order to reap the economic benefits of the industry.
Additional arguments would be made for tourism and its relation to Public Diplomacy, in that there might be also a qualitative variance regarding influencing opinions.
Though, the government and respective diplomatic agents are intrinsically expected to be strategic ambassadors, trying to show the best side of their countries.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Becker in her book entitled “Overbooked the exploding business of Travel and Tourism,” notes that; tourists are non-strategic, at least to the extent of acting in the nation’s interests, and would seem regarding perceptions to offer the most genuine representation and views of a country and its people.
A case in point here is that if tourists are getting poor service or not well treated by a country’s citizens in which they are visiting, t here is a possibility that such actions will form a public perception about the citizens of that country and vice versa.
Besides, if a country’s tourists are involved in bad activities repeatedly, for example, the case of tourism for the purpose of criminal activities or even generally spurned, yet legal activities, such as the issue of sex business or as justifiably referred to as sex tourism.
This might simply result in a general acceptance that such a nation and its citizens are mostly wicked and perilous.
Hence, no anyone citizen of a country would comprehend a country’s Public Diplomacy tussles are transcending that sort of shared sentiment easily even if its foreign policy is received positively.
But what exactly is Public Diplomacy?
The term ‘Public Diplomacy’is believed to have first been coined in 1965 by Edmund Gullion, a professor at Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Since then, the term has received a good share of attention from scholars and professionals alike.
Now, how is Public Diplomacy related to the tourism industry and how can Zambia use tourism to shape better how other people view our country?
When looking at Public Diplomacy and its role in shaping a country’s image, in this case, Zambia, this article takes the definition offered by the Edward R. Murrow Centre for Public Diplomacy the Fletcher graduate school of International Relations at theTufts University in Medford, Massachusetts United State of America.
“Public Diplomacy deals with the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies.
It encompasses dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy; the cultivation by governments of public opinion in other countries; the interaction of private groups and interests in one country with those of another; the reporting of foreign affairs and its impact on policy; communication between diplomats and foreign correspondents; and the processes of inter-cultural communications.”
From the 2018 data from the UNWTO, one would not doubt how large the tourism industry is and how influential the industry is to the public.
Therefore, if tourism is such a big industry, then a case can be made about it’s indirect and direct impact in public diplomacy.
So far, available and verifiable data has shown that there is an interesting relationship between tourism and Public Diplomacy but not yet understood. Furthermore, available information has revealed that Public Diplomacy is a powerful tool that a country uses to sway foreign publics without using force.
Today’s world has become increasingly interconnected.
Dialogue between and among nations is critically important.
Understanding, informing and engaging one another enables a greater appreciation of those policies and values on which a nation stands.
Therefore, Public Diplomacy is at the heart of how and why any government assumes responsibility for its actions and tourism industry is not an exception.
As can be seen from the above, Public Diplomacy is the way in which information and ideas flow.
Maintaining a positive public image and reputation is high on the governance agenda of any country in today’s modern society.
Tourism as a global and ever-expanding industry that involves the mass movement of people from one place to the other.
Tourism from one country can influence how the public perceives other countries.
There is also no doubt that many countries devote their resources and services to tourism to shape a positive international perception of a country.
It is the general conclusion of this article that, Public Diplomacy is no longer solely the pursuit of diplomats and public relations officers as it were.
The practice of Public Diplomacy has become prolific, expanding to involve other sectors such as tourism.
Effective Public Diplomacy is more and more becoming a significant advantage in the contemporary globalised world.
Public diplomacy in the area of international relations that has received its fair share of investigation; however, there is now need to increase attention on how countries can use tourism to advance their public diplomacy efforts.
Needless to say, tourism is the next frontier in the practice of Public Diplomacy, and therefore, the study of Public Diplomacy must match the expansion of tourism in the academic disciplines.
From the above discussion, there is no doubt that the current resolve by the Government in Zambia to recognise tourism as one of the key sectors that would make a meaningful contribution to our national social-economic emancipation is a move in the right direction.
The author is first secretary – (Tourism) at the Zambian Mission in Paris. He is also Zambia’s liaison officer to UNWTO.