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Political unrest, youth and media: Risks, opportunities and destinations on the fringe

22 September 2016
22 Sep 2016 -

Apps, hashtags and social sharing now bear witness to calamity and triumph as its happens and often before a local journalist or media correspondent can report it. Are young people actively pursuing edgy or thrilling travel experiences for the opportunity to ‘take that selfie’ or bear witness to the newsworthy event firsthand?

Russ Hedge (Hostelling International USA), Paula Froelich (A Broad Abroad), Dusan Kovacevic (EXIT Festival) spoke at the opening plenary of WYSTC 2016 on this issue. Phil Sylvester (World Nomads) able moderated the session.

In 2016 we have seen the return of Lone Wolf attacks and hidden terror cells operating in the West and hitting ‘soft’ targets all over the world. London, Paris and most recently New York are recent examples. But, this only scratches the surface, its hard to believe but at least 516 people have been killed in terror attacks around the world – not this year, but so far this month. A number in 21 days that is just staggering. The question is asked of the panel if this has made young travellers more or less afraid to board planes and ‘go travelling’.

The UNWTO/WYSE Global Report on The Power of Youth Travel actually confirms that youth travel is even bigger and stronger than ever before and Russ adds that is only takes an average of 11 months for a travel destination to recover from a terror attack (that is visitation it returns to pre-attack levels and starts growing again). Interestingly Phil added this is considerably longer for a disease-affected destination.

So its the bug that is mightier than the gun. Anecdotally Paula chimed in with her view that destinations are safer immediately after a terror attack (due to a dramatic increase in security) than they were before it and suggested that’s when someone who is really worried about a destination should actually go there.

Most of the audience then agreed with Russ who suggested that travel (especially hostelling) plays an integral part in cultural exchange and friendship which in turn drives safer destinations. He said with a smile “its hard to fight with someone if you are sleeping on their couch”.

Dusan chimed in at this point that he just wanted to see the cycle of war in the Balkans ended and added that this was the main premise behind the launch of EXIT Festival Novi Sad 15 years ago. He added later that the idea stemmed from the early music festivals in the US and UK during the 60s and 70s that had the same ideal, but eventually got lost in commercial success.

It can be concluded that the panel are universal in their collective opinion that some are seekers of war or terror tourism, but more importantly that youth travel is a driver of cultural exchange and is a powerful vehicle for peace. However, destinations need to do more to drive demand and create positive travel experiences for youth travellers and help them take safe selfies.

Russ feels this can be best achieved with voluntourism and gave some examples of causes that he supports and acts with, including: World Merit 360, Paula wouldn’t say where she is writing about next, so watch out for that on ‘A Broad Abroad’ and finally Dusan spoke of his next big project, another music festival with a good cause but this time in neighbouring Macedonia.