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Date [ 2013-12-18, 04:45 ]

Concerted efforts are being made to give this aspect of tourism a set of order and direction

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) by Ramani Rathir = Malaysia has already made a name for herself in Medical Tourism. She is considered as one of the better countries to go to in Southeast Asia, especially for cosmetic surgery.

Now there is an opportunity for her to take on another niche tourism sector – Spiritual Tourism. This could be the reason why, Malaysia was one of the delegate countries at last month’s  First International Conference on Spiritual Tourism for Sustainable Development.

Held at the Bai Dinh Pagoda, Ninh Binh in Vietnam, it was co-organised by the Viet Nam Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports, along with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). The event explored ways in which living cultures, traditions and beliefs can be integrated into tourism, while respecting the four pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, social and cultural.

The conference, attracted over 300 delegates from Viet Nam, Australia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Iran, Myanmar, the US, France, Spain, the Philippines, Japan, Laos, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand and not forgetting,  Malaysia too.
The conference had high officials such as  the Vice President of Viet Nam, Nguyen Thi Doan and  Executive Director of UNWTO, Zoltan Somogyi, among other representatives from foreign diplomatic organisations in Viet Nam.

The Vice Cultural Minister of Vietnam, Ho Anh Tuan observed, "In this world, even though we are different in terms of skin colours and religions, the trust that we rely on are similar in regards to compassion, tolerance and humanity. It's the element of borderless and the common nature of these trusts, together with spiritual beliefs, that bring about sympathy, the sense of sharing and the need for mutual understanding.”

Spiritual Tourism was already in existence in many  countries from Biblical times with early Christians visiting the places associated with Christ. Only thing was, no one had coined a name for it. Today we have the Muslims performing the Haj to Mecca. Numerous private groups visit the Buddhists shrines in India, Sri Lanka, Japan, China  while India has pilgrims travelling from Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of India to the Himalayas,

The conference will explore ways in which living culture, traditions and beliefs can be integrated into tourism while respecting the principles of sustainability. Recognizing the growth of spiritual tourism, with up to 330 million pilgrims visiting the world´s key religious sites every year, the 1st International Conference on Spiritual Tourism for Sustainable Development focused on sustainability and the responsible management of natural and cultural assets as a means to promote the socio-economic development of host communities and societies worldwide.

UNWTO is confident that this Conference will be a turning point in advancing this segment of tourism and called for the support of governments, destinations, tourism businesses and religious leaders to facilitate networking and exchange the most pertinent good practices and case studies at the global level.

The Ninh Binh Declaration on Spiritual Tourism will serve as a reference document for advancing spiritual tourism around the world through:

Strengthening policy framework, responsible business operations and research on spiritual tourism in close cooperation with local communities;

Creating adequate conditions for responsible and sustainable use of living cultural assets;

Encouraging education, training and specially-tailored capacity-building to empower communities with tourism and hospitality management skills;

Promoting socio-economic advancement of vulnerable groups through spiritual tourism development, in particular of indigenous people, ethnic minorities, women, youth and people with disabilities;

Cooperating at a regional level to preserve and exchange concepts of human wellbeing to ensure the survival of ancestral traditions;

Supporting efforts to facilitate the networking of spiritual tourism destinations worldwide.

 After visiting tourism sites in Ninh Binh during his study tour to Vietnam last year, UNWTO General Secretary Taleb Rifai formed a positive impression and began plans to hold the first international event on spiritual tourism. The result was this first conference on spiritual tourism. abc@koreanpress.net

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