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International Tourism Conference Appraises Okinawa’ Potential

Date Posted: 1999-10-30

Tourism experts from several countries last week called on the United Nations Organization to “recognize and encourage responsible tourism development as a powerful deterrent to violence and war.” The appeal came at the end of an International Tourism Development Forum that took place at Nago City’s luxurious Busena Resort Hotel – the designated site for next year’s G-Summit.

The World Trade Center Association (WTCA), through its Committee on Tourism and Cultural Exchange, organized the event that brought together participants from mainland Japan, England, the United States, Switzerland, and so on. A Declaration of Okinawa, issued at the end of the Summit, will be transmitted to the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland, by one of the Swiss participants, Phillippe Doubre. The Declaration expresses the hope that tourism could actually serve as “a catalyst for the advancement of world peace and prosperity.”

The main theme of the conference was “Globalization and Cultural Identity”. Participants faced the objectives of examining the effects of globalization on cultural identity within the context of tourism that brings together so many people from different cultural backgrounds. They also aimed at looking for strategies to expand access to the global tourist market. John Dickson, the Executive Director of WTC Okinawa who hosted the forum, also expressed the hope that participants would help to identify Okinawa’s unexplored resources, assess the island’s potential, and open up a debate on the discreet conflict between globalization and the preservation of cultural identity in tourism.

During an inaugural session on Friday, October 22nd that was charged with pomp and pageantry, several speakers went up the podium to discuss specific aspects of the main theme. The first keynote address came from Dr. Nelson Pilosof, the WTCA’s Tourism Committee chairman, who also heads WTC Montevideo in Uruguay. He gave a highly philosophical discourse on the issues of civilization and the travails of a materialistic society in which the essence of humanity, found in man’s spirit, is very often sidestepped. Dr. Pilosof told the forum that tourism’s main importance, according to him, went far beyond industrial considerations; “what’s more important is the fact that tourism can help preserve man’s spirit,” he said.

The role of tourism in the preservation of civilization is vital to humanity because, as he defined it, civilization means: “to keep the past alive in order to understand the present and to better determine the future.” His was a discourse on the philosophical foundations of modern tourism at the turn of the millenium. He concluded his contribution by warning that, while opening the industry to technological innovations from all over the world, “we have to make sure we protect our values and identity, instead of allowing their erosion.”

Opening up to outside influences without necessarily destroying own identity was the same conclusion drawn by Dr. Hiroyuki Kinjo of the University of Ryuku, when he later delivered a lecture on Tourism Development in Okinawa. Using slides with graphs and figures, the learned man gave a history of tourism in Okinawa, identifying its successes and difficulties. He cited the island’s forecast of 4.4 million tourists this year – an important mark of gradual progress from 200.000 just before reversion in 1972 – as an indication that Okinawa may be a keystone destination for international tourists from Asia and the rest of the world within the next century. However, he prescribed caution against the “Japanisation” of Okinawa’s tourism, recalling a recent experience of his in Hawaii during which he sadly discovered that many facilities had adopted certain practices particularly targeting Japanese customers. Dr. Kinjo drew the conclusion that, while Okinawa looks and feels like Hawaii at times, and has the potential to rival Hawaii in the future, it must always “preserve its Okinawaness.”

More experts made presentations on a variety of related topics. Ombun Tabata from the World Tourism Organization spoke about the public-private-international partnership triangle in tourism. Ray Wyman of the WTC Business Tourism department in the USA delved into the intricacies of business tourism; and Ken O’Bryan of Sport for Life in England delved into the relationship between sports and tourism. During a reception after the inaugural workshops, the US Consul General in Okinawa, Robert Luke, talked to the forum about his government’s support for the meeting’s ideals.

The next day was reserved for site tours. Participants were divided into groups (Cultural Tourism, Historical Tourism, Eco Tourism, Resort/Leisure Activity) that visited designated tour sites on Okinawa falling under each category. They were required to produce professional ratings for each site, and suggestions that would help the Prefecture improve on the quality of its tourism. Tourism is expected to become a competing source of revenue with direct transfers from the Japanese central government within the next century.

One other major achievement of the forum was the introduction and adoption of a WTC International Internship Program that would benefit all countries. According to John Dickson, the project will provide a comprehensive databank of tourism interns on the internet that everyone can tap into. The forum also resolved to hold more conferences with the same theme in other countries. Already, Barcelona (Spain), Amman (Jordan) and Montenegro will be on schedule for next year.

“The issue of globalization and cultural identity is one that will haunt tourism experts and leaders for a long time within the next century,” Mr. Dickson told Japan Update.

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