Asia is the most diverse region in the world, from all its corners, out in the cold climate, to the archipelagos, and mountain ranges. At the heart of it, sits Southeast Asia, home to multi-lingual, inter-faith, and diverse identities, shaped by centuries of trade and geo-political exchanges. For the rest of the world, the wealth of knowledge cased in its shared histories and cultures is like the open sea of its otherwise rich natural resources. ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is at the prime of international discourse, as an economic powerhouse with the recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. In a post-COVID world, cultural diplomacy is at the forefront, in more sustainable, innovative, and needless to say - digital ways.
Needless to say, the pandemic has moved most if not all regional transactions to the online space, limiting in-person contact and disabling - if not transforming - collective gatherings and such shared experiences. Tourism is one of the most badly hit industries, with most borders closing and major cities on lockdown. Now more than ever, the tourism industry is challenged to take it a step forward - to be an ally in protecting cultural heritage and the environment, while helping reduce the adverse social effects of the virus, through job and entrepreneurship stimulation. The World Tourism Organization recently published guidance for the safe and healthy recovery of the tourism sector, with six lines of action: public health, social inclusion, biodiversity conservation, climate action, circular economy, governance and finance.
On the sidelines of the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Economic and Social Council youth forum, AsiaTV soft launched as an online platform for conversations in the field, on the nexus of sustainable tourism and cultural diplomacy. UNESCO, with the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the UN, Tourism Malaysia and ASEAN Centre-MGIMO, experts from Sustainable First and Friends for Leadership, all came together to dig deeper into the questions together. What are the best practices in sustainable tourism and culture for peace during the pandemic?
Ambassador Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja, Executive Director, ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, graced the event to remind the audience of the importance of people-to-people exchanges, citing the rise of e-learning and e-commerce as the new normal for social transactions in the region. Participating member states included the Philippines and Malaysia, which both focused on the stronger roles of the young tourists, entrepreneurs and cultural enthusiasts to come together to co-create sustainable solutions that are pro-planet, pro-people, pro-peace, and also pro-profit.
As a growing dialogue partner, messages were sent by colleagues from the Russian Federation, including Dr. Ekaterina Koldunova, Senior Expert, ASEAN Centre of MGIMO University, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, whose students showcased online events around cultural diplomacy, as a gateway to the future of tourism. Friends for Leadership, an international network of next generation leaders launched at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, was also present, where Dr. Roman Chukov elevated the discussion to digital governance in a post-COVID world.
The talk show, hosted by AsiaTV’s Regine Guevara, was a rich exchange of Best Practices within ASEAN and the greater Asia region, which juxtaposed both online actors (online tours, cultural classes, webinars), with offline actors who continue to try to abide by emerging pandemic protocols, as well as hybrid formats in between. There were also traditional tourism players such as guides and agencies, as well as social entrepreneurs and even farmers, who exchanged new trends such as farm and health tourism.