Peace Through Tourism

Nuwan Herath

March 2010

Peace tourism intends to reduce root causes that create situations where violence has been perceived as inevitable. It is not a replacement for various other kinds of tourism practice, but is rather intended to be a facilitator to enhance sustainable development and positive peace through the tourism industry [1]. However, before I go into comprehensive examination of this relatively new concept, it is essential to recognize the meaning of tourism and how it has been growing as an industry in past decades.According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), “Tourism comprises the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business, and other purposes[2]. Hunziker and Krapf, Swiss researchers of tourism and professors, define Tourism as the “sum of phenomena and relationships arising from the travel and stay of non – residents, in so far as they do not lead to permanent resident and are not connected with earning activity[3]. These two definitions indicate certain characteristics of tourism that distinguish it from other forms of traveling. Primarily, the definitions identify tourism as temporary travel to an unfamiliar setting with no intention of permanent settlement or permanent employment.

As one of the largest industries on the globe, tourism has grown rapidly during the past six decades. It has been significant for reducing unemployment, increasing economic growth, and contributing to natural resource conservation and cultural exchange [4]. Statistics pertaining to international tourist arrivals indicate the continuing growth of the industry from 25 million people in 1950 up to 800 million in 2005. It has been speculated that the industry will reach up to 1.56 billion tourists worldwide by 2020 [5].

Even though in 2009 the world experienced a number of unfortunate political, economic, natural, and health problems, there was an ongoing growth observed in international tourists’ arrivals during the very last part of the year. Overall, net tourist arrivals were documented as 880 million in 2009. That sum exceeded expectations, based on the number of global problems that took place in 2009 [6].

In terms of “foreign exchange earnings,” tourism has been a main source of income for many developing countries across the globe. In most of the underdeveloped countries around the world, the tourism sector there is a major portion of their economy in comparison to the other goods and service production. In addition, tourism is growing more rapidly than other sectors of many underdeveloped countries’ economies [7]. For these reasons, tourism has the potential to be an important starting point for economic recovery in much of the underdeveloped world, which is suffering serious unemployment due to the world economic crisis [8].

Peace Tourism Debate

Recently, global institutions for tourism, as well as scholars and other professionals involved in the tourism industry, became interested in looking at tourism’s potential for peace making, mainly because of its prominence as a global industry. The major assumption behind the notion of peace tourism is that when people travel frequently all over the world, it helps them get to know new people, cultures, values etc. That experience is capable of increasing mutual understanding among people who have been living in diverse cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, such travel also benefits the host countries economically and politically [9].

However, there is an opposing view which claims tourism is not a generator of peace but a “beneficiary of peace.” Tourism is only possible in areas where peace is present; it is absent in war zones, and much diminished in areas of high conflict and tension [10]. Additionally, tourism has been perceived as a way of exploiting local people and destinations through the “commoditization” of local cultures. This view identifies tourism as a new way of perpetuating western dominance in the developing world. Advocates of this view argue that tourists in the underdeveloped world tend to come from the rich North and West, not the lesser developed South. Thus, in developing nations, there are many fewer tourists coming from developing nations, but rather more from rich, developed countries visiting poor counties. This leads critics to argue that it creates a sort of “Master/Servant” relationship [11].

Each of these views likely holds some truth, one view being more accurate in some places, the other more accurate in others [12]. A key question to answer is how the worldwide tourism industry could be redesigned to help sustain positive peace on all parts of the globe.

It is evident that the opponents of the peace tourism concept are reluctant to accept tourism as a source of peacemaking. According to them, the tourism industry is vulnerable in areas without peace and tourists generally tend to visit destinations only if those places are free from violence [13]. Therefore, they correctly argue that tourism is not an effective preventive option for direct violence in conflicts. However, peace tourism proponents argue that tourism can prevent structural violence, which is typically associated with protracted conflicts. Tourism, it seems, is more applicable for the “structural prevention” of conflict than direct prevention of violence. Structural prevention focuses on preventing the development or worsening of the underlying causes of conflict. It is different from the other forms of conflict prevention, called “direct prevention” or “operational prevention”, which involves activities such as mediation, negotiation, arbitration, early warning and early response etc. However, structural prevention is very much synonymous with long term peacebuilding aimed at addressing the social, economic and cultural divides that have long term implications for triggering overt violence [14]. Properly managed tourism projects could contribute to peace building by diminishing some of the structural causes associated with violence. This proposition could be examined by looking at tourism’s relevance to some of the prominent peacebuilding theories.

For example, the liberal peace theory is one of the leading models that impact most peacebuilding practices. This theory states that democratization and free marketization of conflicting regions would lead to long term peace [15]. However, many large national and multinational tourism companies have been exploiting resources, labor and the environment in many developing countries and their local communities as a result of “profit based” free marketization. This is one of the main disadvantages of the tourism industry and is a source of much criticism of it [16]. Therefore we can conclude that even though the tourism industry has been used to implement some structural changes through marketization, it may not be a suitable way to prevent structural violence and enhance peacebuilding.

On the other hand, Galtung’s positive peace theory provides a fine explanation of how tourism can be helpful. Unlike the liberal peace theory, positive peace theory does not propose imposing a particular political or economic system on the host country. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of cooperative and sustainable political, economic and cultural peace policies in order to diminish or eliminate direct, structural and cultural violence. On the structural level, positive peace suggests creating self-sustaining economic foundations. On the cultural level, the theory talks about establishing equality with healthy partnerships among people and communities. Overall the theory advocates for global partnerships through eliminating all forms of violence rather than an imposition of a system from developed countries to developing countries [17].

Peace tourism expresses the importance of having “positive peace” rather than merely eliminating direct violence [18]. To tone down the negative effects and promote tourism as a sustainable industry, there are three main sectors that should be functioning and coordinated together. First, “host communities” should focus more on the quality of service that they deliver to incoming tourists and must be responsible for protecting their surrounding environment (eco systems). Secondly, governments should make available the necessary infrastructure expansion and must implement essential “regulatory mechanisms” to protect the industry from exploitation and environmental degradation. Finally, foreign stakeholders should support local initiatives through investment or provide necessary support that is required for the qualitative growth of the tourism industry [19]. Tourism provides the opportunity for communities to generate income even if they are “poor economically, but rich in culture”. It has the potential to provide direct and indirect employment for a large assortment of people in various social strata including part time and seasonal job opportunities for many people. Tourism can also provide supplemental income generation to people who already have other jobs. Taken as a whole, this large web of employment opportunities could generate income for multiple layers in society [20]. Income generation leads to the increase of per capita income and it is one of the preventive factors that mitigate the civil conflict escalation. Particularly, low income leads to elevated inequality in society and if those disparities are based on ethnic lines, then it could trigger more social unrest. Therefore, income disparities could lead societies into more structural inequalities and draw out the durations of prevailing civil wars [21]. For that reason, it can be asserted that tourism is a prospective alternative for developing countries to mitigate impending dangers of civil conflicts.

Furthermore, tourism can improve government-to-government, government-to-private citizens and citizen-to-citizens’ relationships [22]. These forms of relationships can be considered track two diplomacy, meaning that they work as a supplement for government or higher-level diplomacy. The spreading of knowledge and information on culture, society, and perspectives through these levels of relationships are significant in this form of diplomacy. Therefore, we can say that tourism could lead to an improvement of international relations in all levels [23]. Except for tourist projects that initiate infrastructure development (airports, roads, improved water and sanitation systems, etc.), tourist projects will become beneficial not only for tourists but also for the local people. Another major objective of peace tourism is to cross ethnic, race and regional boundaries [24]. This actually relates with the positive peace theory’s suggestion about global civilization which aimed at improving global partnerships [25].

Alternatives to Mitigate Negative Impacts

Massive tourism in a particular region would certainly have negative impacts as well as positive ones. However, if the negative impacts can be identified, they can be mitigated, and more suitable options arranged. For example, “eco-tourism” has been developed as one answer [26]. Eco-tourism has been defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people[27]. In parallel to the development of this responsible tourism concept, many tourists have become conscientious about negative externalities such as environment degradation and destructive social changes. Surveys show that most tourists from western countries prefer to see host communities empowered and natural resources preserved as outcomes of their spending in touristic destinations. Similarly, tourists’ willingness to expand their cultural awareness and partake in culturally interactive activities is increasing [28]. Overall, the essence of this relatively new form of tourism is to build healthy relationships between people of different cultures and between people and the environment. One of the major benefits of ecotourism is that it preserves natural resources for future generations. This could really contribute to the achievement of millennium development goals. Ecotourism can also preserve cultural monuments, “traditions, folk lore” etc [29].

Women are another beneficiary of tourism. Many women are engaged in work making handicrafts. Tourism significantly increases the demand for such products, therefore increasing these women’s income and providing more jobs. This offers an opportunity for marginalized women to generate income and have a say in how their family’s income is spent. Another benefit is that there is no age limit for these jobs. Elderly people who cannot get other jobs can make and sell handicrafts. Therefore, tourism can contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals pertaining to gender equality as well [30].

Furthermore, it is important to stress the educational dimension of tourism. Through travel, tourists enhance their knowledge of other countries and cultures, and view their relationship with these countries through new lenses. Arranging new forms of guest and host relationships could mitigate the master/servant relationship in the tourism industry, especially through having innovative accommodations such as arranging host families for tourists [31].

Overall, proper planning in the tourism industry can lead to a sustainable tourism that could reduce many of the structural factors associated with conflicts. Sustainable tourism requires careful planning and involvement of key stakeholders in all the layers of the society. It requires proper allocation of resources to fulfill social, cultural and economic needs, while maintaining the well being of the natural environment [32]. If this is done, the benefits of tourism can greatly exceed the costs.

Peace Tourism in Post-War Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the best touristic destinations in the world. It has been ranked as the no 1 place to visit in 2010 by New York Times [33]. However, Sri Lanka’s enormous potential to deliver sustainable tourism had been overshadowed by several problems. One was the three decade long civil war, which prevented almost all tourism in the northern and eastern parts of the island. A third problem was the governments’ lack of “national policy” for tourism and lack of attention to resource exploitation. For example, inadequate education of tourists and overuse caused massive breaking of corals reefs in the southern coastal areas [34]. As a result of this environmental damage, the 2004 tsunami came onto land unchecked and destroyed much of the beachfront tourism property which might have survived, had the reef been intact. This ironic situation implies a message about “lose – lose” situations in the tourism industry where environment, tourists and exploitative income earners collectively became losers due to this activity.

However, at the present, there is a golden opportunity for Sri Lanka to develop a model eco-tourism industry. The three decade long civil war ended on May 18th, 2009. Most of the covered tourism destinations which were closed during the war have now opened to both local and international tourists. The initial response to this situation was massive numbers of local tourists coming to Sri Lanka’s large northern city, Jaffna. Soon after the area was opened, there were about 85,000 tourists who came into the area during the first couple of months after the war ended. This quickly became unbearable for the limited guest houses and hotels in the area [35]. Most tourists from southern Sri Lanka were accommodated by Tamil families in Jaffna during this time. If Sri Lanka wants to redevelop its tourist industry, however, there clearly is a high potential for a mutually beneficial endeavor.

The opportunity behind this trend is to transform this public motivation into successful reconciliation processes. There are many steps that the government of Sri Lanka can take to establish sustainable peace tourism in Sri Lanka. Particularly, the government has to help in creating infrastructure within these newly opened areas. As much as possible, locals should be encouraged to invest in tourist infrastructure and businesses themselves — it should not just be opened up to large multinational companies to move in and reap all the profits. In addition, the government should implement concrete policies and regulate the tourism market to mitigate the negative externalities and disastrous resource exploitation, such as the destruction of the coral reefs in the southern part of the country that occurred before the civil war. A local tourism program would help raise the local people’s standard of living, which promotes social stability. Additionally, improving and promoting cultural tourism in places where all communities can gather for religious and cultural events could help people in divided societies to meet each other and share their cultures. There are many religious and cultural places where all the communities in Sri Lanka can visit together. By using these types of resources, the tourism industry could initiate long-term reconciliation process between North and South Sri Lanka.

As the case of Sri Lanka illustrates, tourism can both help societies recover from civil war and can help prevent or diminish the structural and cultural tensions that trigger large scale violence in many conflicts. Tourism is not just an income-generating industry, but also a great platform for enhancing positive peace.


[1] Ian Kelly. Introduction to Peace through Tourism, IIPT Occasional Paper No.1,2006,
[2] Charles R. Goeldner, J. R. Brent Ritchie. Tourism: principles, practices, philosophies. (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2006), 7
[3] A. K. Raina, Dr. S. K. Agarwal. The essence of tourism development: Dynamics, Philosophy, and Strategies. (New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2004), 8 
[4] Martha Honey, Raymond Gilpin. Special Report on “Tourism in the Developing World: Promoting Peace and Reducing Poverty”. (Washington DC: United State Institute of Peace, 2009)  link  
[5] The International Ecotourism Society, Global Ecotourism fact sheet (Washington DC: TIES, 2006) Link 
[6] World Tourism Organization, Tourism Outlook 2010, Issue 1, Link 
[7] See: Ecotourism Society.
[8] See: Tourism Outlook 2010
[9] See: Louis J. D’ Amore, Tourism A Vital Force for Peace, Tourism Management volume 9 issue 2 1988.
[10] See: Stephen W. Litvin. Tourism: The World's Peace Industry?Journal of Travel Research. 37:63
[11] Daniel Etter. Situational Conditions of Attitude Change within Tourism Settings: Understanding the Mechanics of Peace through Tourism. IIPT Occasional Paper No. 11, 2007
[12] See further: IIPT Occasional Paper No 11
[13] See: Litvin,
[14] See: Andreas Wenger, Daniel Möckli. Conflict prevention: the untapped potential of the business sector. (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003), pp 35-36
[15] Alex J. Bellamy, Paul Williams, Stuart Griffin. Understanding Peacekeeping, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010) pp 23-24
[16] Ian Kelly, Peace Through Tourism: A SWOT Analysis, IIPT Occasional Paper No. 2, 2006
[17] Johan Galtunng. Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization. (London: SAGE Publications, 1996) 
[18] See: Johan Galtunng.
[19] Martha Honey, Raymond Gilpin. Special Report on “Tourism in the Developing World: Promoting Peace and Reducing Poverty”. (Washington DC: United State Institute of Peace, 2009) Link
[20] See: Honey, Gilpin
[21] Paul Collier, Anke Hoeffler & Mans Soderbom.On the Duration of Civil War, Centre for the Study of African Economies, Department of Economics, University of Oxford. Journal of Peace Research 2004
[22] Ian Kelly. Tourism and the Peace Proposition, IIPT Occasional Paper No. 10 2006
[23] See: Johan Galtunng.
[24] See: Kelly, Peace Proposition
[25] Galtung pp.3
[26] See: Honey & Gilpin
[27] See: Ecotourism Society.
[28] See: Ecotourism Society
[29] See: Honey,Gilpin
[30] See: Honey,Gilpin
[31] See: Kelly, Peace Proposition
[32] Lisa Mastny. Traveling Light, New Paths forInternational Tourism,World Watch Paper 159. 2001
[33] 31 Places to go in 2010. New York times Jan. 10. 2010
[34] Michael Lück. The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments (King;s Lynn: Biddles Ltd. 2007)

Use the following to cite this article:
Herath, Nuwan. "Peace Through Tourism" Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: March 2010 <>.