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Travelling changes your life

A story told by Màrcio Favilla Lucca de Paula Milan, Italy

Márcio Favilla (59) is Executive Director for Competitiveness, External Relations and Partnerships at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Márcio is originally from Brazil, where he held the post of Vice Minister for Tourism among others. He now lives in Milan, headquarters of the UNWTO.

The United Nations have declared 2017 the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.” On 8 January, this special year was launched in style in Madrid, the headquarters of UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation). We met Márcio Favilla at the Global Social Tourism Conference (organised by ISTO) in October 2016 for a relaxed conversation about how tourism, particularly among young people, can contribute to sustainable development, diversity and peace.


Travelling changes your life. Márcio Favilla still vividly remembers one particular trip that became a milestone in his life. In 1985, when he was still studying, Márcio travelled to several different cities in Europe. While staying at the youth hostel in Strasbourg, he met a young woman who would later become his wife. “I was just expecting a normal holiday: seeing new places, having new experiences. But my stay in Strasbourg was a turning point in my life. A couple of years later we got married, and we’re still married to this day!” Márcio laughs. 

The importance of young travellers 

A holiday can therefore be a very important moment in the life of a young person. Márcio believes that tourism among young travellers is undervalued, whereas it is in fact extremely important. Young backpackers often eschew the well-travelled tourist routes, seeking out new places and meetings with local people off the beaten track. This is good for business, because tourism can often become concentrated in specific regions, places and seasons of the year. “Young backpackers are looking for different destinations. They stay in youth hostels or with local people, thereby helping to spread tourism throughout a larger area. Their visits and stays introduce the economic and social advantages of tourism to places and people who would otherwise be deprived of them.” 

“Young backpackers seek out different destinations, thereby taking the advantages of tourism further afield.” - Màrcio Favilla


Márcio: “Curious young tourists therefore help to pinpoint new destinations, because they come across places which are not yet in the public eye. They spontaneously share their experiences – both good and bad - via social media, which adds extra weight to their stories.” 

How travelling contributes to building peace around the world 

Tourism is important for numerous reasons, says Márcio. Travelling means making space to discover new things, reflect on your life and enjoy quality time with your family. But it also means meeting new people, communities, and unknown cultures. “These meetings allow understanding to grow on both sides, and travellers and local populations can build lasting links with one another. When you meet people from other cultures, your understanding increases. This experience enriches your life and softens your view of who and what is different to you. That helps to build peace in the world. In my opinion, this is by far the most important contribution tourism can make.” 

2017: a year to pay extra attention to the contribution made by tourism to sustainable development 

The topic of “mutual understanding and peace” referred to by Márcio, is one of the five pillars of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development organised by the United Nations for this year. The other four pillars are: 1) inclusive and sustainable economic growth, 2) job creation, entrepreneurship and inclusiveness, 3) environmental preservation and effective resource management, 4) the promotion and protection of cultural values and heritage. According to Márcio, “the fifth pillar, on cultural diversity, mutual understanding and peace, is actually a horizontal foundation, which upholds tourism as a driving force for sustainable development.” 

Authored by Griet Bouwen Bilzen