Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad was first published in 1869. Roughing It, a prequel, recounts Twain’s adventures on a stagecoach journey west with his brother. Twain argued that travel broadens the mind: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Jost Krippendorf, in his seminal text The Holiday Makers, reminded us that “every individual tourist builds up or destroys human values while travelling”. We all make choices about how we travel, and about the tours and opportunities that we provide for our clients and guests.
Palestinian Arab, Aziz Abu Sarah, and Scott Cooper, Jewish American, were working together for peace when they realised that travel could be a powerful and untapped resource for international understanding and peace. They describe themselves as “business partners, best friends, and consider each other brothers.”
In 2009, they founded Mejdi Tours, offering dual narrative tours, initially to Israel and Palestine. They have added tours to Sarajevo, Belfast and Washington D.C., travelling with guides from both sides of conflicts, able to tell the history from the perspective of their community, and with opportunities to meet with people from both sides of the divide.
If the industry were to realize the potential for travel as an act of peace, travel could change the world.Mejdi Tours
In the face of growing divides, Mejdi’s purpose is to break down false ‘them and us’ binaries by enabling encounters and encouraging listening. Travellers learn that places and peoples are not homogenous, that the past and the present are complex, that there are multiple narratives. Aziz reports: “Personal narratives are often harder to dismiss than faceless news reports. They inspire dialogue, an exchange of ideas, and collaboration. We’ve witnessed people overcome fear and even hatred by being exposed to the stories of the “other” in a way that can inspire familiarity.”
Mejdi aspires to provide opportunities for travellers to act as “citizen diplomats” and challenge the tourism industry to do more: “Over a billion people travel internationally every year. If the industry were to realize the potential for travel as an act of peace, travel could change the world. Peacemaking can’t be left to diplomats, nonprofits, and academics. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t last. …. The world needs citizen diplomats to engage and learn, to create friendships, and then spread those stories.”
Mejdi are global leaders in socially conscious travel. Mejdi means to honour in Arabic “that is exactly what we do on every tour – We honor the people of the place.” Over 1.5 million people have viewed Aziz Abu Sarah’s Ted Talk – take 5 minutes to watch and listen, it is inspiring.
Mejdi are not alone in making the case for peace through tourism. The International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT), has been making the case since it was founded in 1986. Its vision is for travel and tourism to become the world’s first global peace industry, founded on the belief that every traveller is potentially an “Ambassador for Peace.”
We need to do more to connect people.