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Istanbul: Former European Union chief Jose Manuel Barroso has cautioned against once again building walls within the 28-nation grouping in an attempt to handle the migrant crisis as well as fight terrorism, saying the Schengen agreement that allows for visa-free travel on the continent should be continued and not suspended as has been suggested by some leaders.
Addressing the inaugural session of the World Tourism Forum here, Barroso said that bringing back strict border controls within the EU was just not the right response to the current panic about migrants and terror, which has dominated the EU's political discourse for the entire year gone by.
"You counter terror through much better intelligence sharing and coordination between the law enforcement forces of the different countries. You can not curb terror by simply building a wall on your borders. Look at the San Bernadino attack in the United States. It did not happen because the US was lax about its border controls," Barosso told a near house-full gathering at the Istanbul Convention Centre, located on a hill in the chic Harbiye quarter, overlooking the Bosphorous Straits.
Barroso reminded the EU leadership that the EU was the largest tourism destination in the world, accounting for nearly half the total tourist arrivals of over one billion who travelled in a foreign country in 2014.
"Tourism is a vital part of the European economy, ranking first in the total employment and bringing nearly 545 billion euros in income. So, it is not a sector that you can ignore or take steps that could hurt it, especially at a time when the EU economy is barely beginning to recover from the very long crisis that it has undergone since 2008," he told the audience, which included tourism ministers from nearly a dozen nations and over 2,500 tourism professionals from various parts of the world.
Earlier, inaugurating the third edition of the Forum, Turkish Tourism Minister Mahir Unal underlined the ever-growing need for tourism in today's world where people are becoming increasingly suspicious and ignorant of all foreigners or people belonging to different faiths and cultures.
"Travelling brings you face to face with people and nations that have very different cultures and histories and we need to understand each other better. Hence, it is vital that in today's troubled world, tourism does not become a victim or hostage to such suspicions and short-sighted decisions by national governments which create hurdles in tourism," Unal told the gathering.
He also urged Turkey's tourism professionals to continue to develop new markets, especially China and India, as well as Africa, to recover from the sharp losses that have resulted from the travel ban imposed by Russia on its citizens travelling to Turkey.
Russia was the largest source market for Turkey and tourism from the neighbouring EU nations has also been hurt due to the war in Syria and terror attacks in Istanbul and Ankara.
The point was also highlighted by Bulut Bagci, the president of the World Tourism Forum, who hoped that the meeting would lead to better business connect between Turkish tourism professionals and their counterparts from various parts of the world. He also said that the Forum is organising regional events in Shanghai, Abu Dhabi and Antalya this year to focus on new markets.
The World Tourism Forum was established to deliver value to the tourism industry by presenting a platform to discuss socio-economic, cultural and technological aspects of the industry. A global meeting is held once a year.
(Ranvir Nayar is a Paris-based senior Indian journalist. He can be contacted at r.nayar@mediaindia. (IANS)