By Virginia M. Forrester

Here is a ZENIT-working translation of the Message that the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, H.E. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson sent, on the occasion of World Tourism Day, observed every year on September 27.

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The Message

Tourism and Rural Development

The 41st World Tourism Day is observed this year in the uncertain context marked by the developments of the COVID-19 pandemic, of which the end is still not in sight. From it stems a drastic reduction of human mobility and tourism — international as well as national –, placing itself at a historic low. The suspension of international flights; the closing of airports and borders and the adoption of severe travel restrictions, also internal, is causing an unprecedented crisis in many sectors connected to the tourist industry. It’s feared that in the worst of cases, witnessed at the end of 2020 will be a decrease of about a billion international tourists, with a global economic loss of close to US$1.2 billion. It will be followed by an enormous loss of jobs in the entire tourist sector. According to the Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization (WTO), Zurab Pololikashvili, “tourism has been among the sectors most affected by the global lockdown, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the economy’s sectors of highest intensity of work.”[1] Such a disquieting scenario, unthinkable even a few months ago, must not paralyze us and deprive us of a positive vision of the future. In this connection, Pope Francis affirmed: “Worse than this crisis is only the drama of wasting it [. . . ] Now, in the great effort to begin again, how damaging is pessimism, to see everything black, to repeat that nothing will be as it was before!”[2]

“Tourism and Rural Development,” the topic chosen for the present Day by the WTO before the COVID-19 emergency, points out providentially one of the ways towards the possible recovery of the tourist sector. It begins with the invitation to take seriously and to put into practice the sustainable development, which, in the realm of tourism, means a great interest in the extra-urban tourist goals, small villages, hamlets, streets and places little noticed or less frequented: those most hidden places to be discovered or rediscovered precisely because they are more enchanting and uncontaminated. Rurality lives in these places, far from the crowds’ ways of tourism. Therefore, it’s about the promotion of sustainable and responsible tourism that, carried out according to the principles of social and economic justice, and in full respect of the environment and of cultures, recognizes the centrality of the host local community and its right to be a protagonist in the sustainable and socially responsible development of its territory; hence a tourism that fosters positive interaction between the tourist industry, the local community and the travellers.[3]

Such a typology of tourism can become an incentive to sustain the rural economy, which is made up of agriculture and, often, family businesses, small dimensions, marginal areas and low incomes received by the food supply chain. Tourism and rural agriculture can thus become two essential components of a new world that it is hoped to build, a tourism made by people and through people. The small farmers, moreover, are the first custodians of creation through their patient and toilsome working of the earth. The tourists are visitors that can become supporters of an ecosystem, if their travel is done in a conscious and sober way. To travel to rural destinations, then, could mean concretely to sustain the local productions, the small agricultural business realities, carried out in a way compatible with the laws of nature. Thus a trip can have the flavour of history and open the heart to the wide horizon of fraternity and solidarity.

Tourism that is able to look at and share the gifts of the earth in the rural realm becomes also a way to learn new lifestyles, in a concrete way. The wisdom of one that cultivates the earth, made up of observation and waiting, can certainly help the frenetic modern world to harmonize the times of daily life with those that are natural. To bring tourism and rural development close is a good way to learn new cultures, to allow oneself to be contaminated by the values of the custody of creation and the protection of creation that, today, are not only a moral duty but an urgency of collective action.

“Rural tourism” thus becomes the place in which to learn a new way of entering in relationship with the other and with nature. And every personal change must begin by truly transformative behaviour. To do this one must start out and, to start out, one must have a goal: the rural world can be all this. Tourism meets development if it is done attentively and tranquilly, sustainably; this means to respect the agricultural practices, the rhythms of life of the rural populations, appreciating the genuineness still preserved in whole internal areas, being surprised by the thousands of small things that can be seen, choosing local agricultural products. In this way one can accept the small or great differences that exist between the traditions, places and communities encountered. Why, then, not turn to a tourism that values rural and marginal areas, finding them while walking? This will enable us to slow down and to avoid the risks of frenzy.[4]

In fact, in this period tourism can become an instrument of closeness. Yes, our post-modern world needs closeness, namely, closeness in relations and, hence, of hearts.

And tourism, which in every case foresees the movement of people and goods, must now show its transformative face, as recreational activity that makes grow the spirit of fraternity between peoples.

In a period of uncertainty of people’s movements, of which tourism suffers the major consequences in an immediate and direct way, we believe that one must act for the support of the income of the labourers of this sector, as well as the care and defense of the most fragile rural communities in each territory. By doing so, the tourist economy will be able to take up its course again, although in more reduced levels of circulation.; the circulation of people, of goods and of money will be the tangible sign of a closeness, which has begun in the heart. Responsible and sustainable tourism, valuing the local resources and activities, is desirable as one of the turning factors in the fight against poverty, which the COVID-19 pandemic has made increase exponentially.

By way of conclusion, we want to assure our closeness and support to all those that are committed in opposing the impact of the pandemic on the life of individuals and of societies that live of tourism.

We appeal to governments and those in charge of national economic policies, to promote and encourage responsible tourism, acting according to principles of social and economic justice and in full respect of the environment and of cultures. May the rulers turn their gaze to marginal areas, giving these territories concrete occasions of development, valuing the peculiar vocations, the participation of the local communities in the decision-making processes, and the improvement of the income of those that work the land. We turn particularly to the ecological movements and to all those that are committed in the defense of the environment so that they contribute with their own work to the conversion of hearts to a healthy and correct integral ecology, in which the value of the human person is combined with the protection of the conditions of life of the rural communities settled in marginal areas. May the economic program have as reference the defense of the poor and of the weakest subjects of the economic cycle; may the agricultural labourers of the rural zones be considered direct recipients of significant economic and financial aid and of recovery projects and the promotion of rural family agriculture.

To the Bishops and those responsible for the tourism pastoral we ask a concerted commitment so that each one, in his own territory, can assume concrete initiatives of aid to tourist activities. May the faithful and parishes respond with solicitude and generosity to the exigencies and needs of tourism workers, in difficulty today and, together, develop networks of closeness in relations and of help to support the income lost. May new ways of tourist fruition of rural areas be constructed, in which to combine respect of the environment and occasions of support of local tourist operators.

Finally, we express our most cordial gratitude to all those that, in this time of trial, have shown solidarity and support to those that live of tourism, in particular in the rural areas. With God’s help, let us all put ourselves on the same path towards a better future.

From the Vatican, August 6, 2020, on the Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration.

Peter K. A. Cardinal Turkson

Prefect

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

[1] https://www.unwto.org/news/covid-19-world-tourism-remains-at-a-standstill-as-100-of-countires-impose-restrictions-on-travel

[2] Francis, Homily during the Holy Mass on the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 31, 2020.

[3] Definition adopted by the assembly of the Italian Association of Responsible Tourism, October 9, 2005.

[4] Cf. Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 18.

[Translation by Virginia Forrester]

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