What’s so great about Italy? When you travel around the country—as I’ve had the pleasure of doing these past few weeks—it seems like a silly question. Known for temperate climates and charming landscapes, Italy was once the most powerful country in the world. It produced some of the greatest works of art ever known, and has captured the imaginations of countless travelers throughout history.
Today, outstanding food and wine is served against a backdrop of over 100,000 historical sites. It even has a city with streets of water - no wonder it’s known as a land of romance and wonder. In the words of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, “Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.”
All of this is true, as most travelers will attest. But I noticed something else during my stay.
As I moved from city to city, it wasn’t just Italians I came across. It was a veritable festival of nations: Russians, Germans, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Americans, New Zealanders, Japanese, Chinese and of course other Australians. On top of that, a melting pot of migrants had come to support the tourist economy. Many were from the Middle-East and Africa. The overall mix of people was astounding.
All of this led me to ponder a much larger question: What’s so great about tourism? What makes it stand out amongst other industries?
The answer is simple: it brings people and nations together.
Consider the other industries at work in the world today. Finance pits currency against currency. Agriculture forces farmer against farmer. Information Technology is a realm of ruthless competition. These are all wonderful and necessary industries—but tourism is perhaps the only one that unites so many people in a common pursuit.
Enjoyment and relaxation are certainly important parts of this pursuit, but so is knowledge and self-discovery. As an industry, tourism provides countless opportunities for people of different backgrounds to learn about each other and the shared history of the world. It allows us to discover who we were in the past, who we are today, and whom we might be in ages to come.
In Italy, we can see the influence held at different historical moments: the Romans, the Venetians, the various groups from Tuscany such the Medici. We can also explore the influence of other nations upon Italy’s political and cultural landscape: Portugal, Spain, Great Britain, France, even Mongolia. In all of this shared history, we can learn about ways in which power has been used for both good and bad.
The underlying force of this shared exploration though is one of unity and progress. Every one of us has a country we call home, and the more others countries know about us, the greater the chances of diplomacy and mutual understanding. This might seem like an elementary idea, but the simplest and most obvious things are often the truest. Tourism is a business that breaks down barriers of cultural understanding and opens the door to a more peaceful future.
It’s also good for us as individuals. A quick search reveals hundreds of studies and articles that make surprising claims about the benefits of tourism. Scientists and psychologists from a broad swath of universities and think tanks suggest that taking a trip can reduce stress, relieve depression, lower the risk of heart disease, and even boost brain activity. The spending we do on travel, suggests a study from Harvard University, brings far more lasting and tangible rewards than the spending we do on other material things.
World Tourism Day is an ideal moment to reflect on how we can make our world a better place through contact rather than isolation, engagement rather than indifference, and learning rather than ignoring. Tourism is a powerful force. Let’s use it for good!
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