Luc Gobin works for ISTO, the International Social Tourism Organisation. Luc is head of the department for promoting social tourism in Europe at the International Social Tourism Organisations (ISTO).
Tourism is a major economic sector with numerous creative entrepreneurs driving growth and job creation. But when we look more closely, we see that tourism is also a social phenomenon at heart. Luc Gobin says: “Tourism offers us the opportunity to meet other people. That’s important, because we learn to see and value other people, who often live, think and interact differently than us, without judging them.” Modern tourism therefore brings a great deal of added value to society, claims Luc: “We have almost reached the stage as a society where we don’t understand each other anymore.”
Tourism should not be seen as synonymous with pampering oneself: such holidays are a distant dream for many. Luc states the essence of tourism is far removed from luxury. “If you never encounter things outside your comfort zone, you are more likely to make judgements about other people. This can easily lead you to the conclusion that other people – whom you don’t know – are wrong, which gives rise to a populistic and negative outlook on life.”
“Tourism is a way of opening up your mind to things that are different to what you are used to and people that live, think and act in a different way to you.” - Luc Gobin
Experience the majesty of nature and realise how small you are
Throwing yourself into new and unknown experiences – even ones close to home – changes your view of yourself, the world and your place in it. “I grew up in Ostend. As a child, holidays for me meant going to the beach. I still vividly remember lying on the beach, looking up at the clouds and feeling the sand between my fingers. The hugeness of the clouds, the tiny grains of sand and the company of my holiday buddies helped me to understand myself better.”
When I was 19 I watched the sunset in Kenya. For six minutes, I was part of this amazing cosmic experience which the whole of nature was intensely involved in. It was my first trip to another continent. Through nature and contact with other people, I realised that our environment- nature, the planet, the universe- is infinitely larger than we are.”
The importance of valuing difference
“That trip to Kenya was a very important moment in my life. Life in Africa is different. People think differently there and are often happy with much less than we have in the West. That realisation, and the overwhelming beauty of nature, opened my mind to new experiences at an early age.
Now that my kids are grown up, my wife and I take a trip to a far-off country every year. We’ve been to Rwanda, Iran, Ethiopia... regions where conflicts are brewing which we in Europe find difficult to understand. When you meet people there, you are often challenged and the experience is rewarding. You learn that some tensions cannot be resolved easily. Sometimes they can’t be resolved, full stop. And you learn that it’s very important for people to learn to value others who are different to them.”
Emotional and moral building blocks
These interactions with environments, people and ways of thinking that are different to yours helps grow your respect, trust, and gives you a deeper understanding of humanity, claims Luc. But it’s also about the small things. When you occasionally leave your own home and living space and enter a new environment, you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone. “In an environment which you are not familiar with, you see and experience different things.”
Going away from home means leaving your routines behind and doing things differently for a change. These new experiences are emotional and moral building blocks that you take back home with you.”
Find out what’s valuable and incorporate it into your life
Tourism therefore helps you live a decent life, says Luc. “We live in a society where you constantly need to perform. You need to take your foot off the accelerator and rediscover what’s worthwhile, to give you positivity and hope for the future. It’s often small things, such as deciding to rest more often. Sometimes it works, sometimes you forget about it later. What you decide to do with your own life is your responsibility.”