Three uplifting stories to celebrate World Tourism Day 2022

World Tourism Day

The World Tourism Day has been held on September 27 each year — ever since 1980. This year, the celebration is in Bali, Indonesia, and the theme or concept that it will focus on is rethinking tourism.

With many countries in the world easing Covid-related restrictions and lifting travel caps, flights and airports get busier, and bucket lists and travel dreams arise from their deep slumber. But as we look forward to more travel, and travel that is inclusive and for everyone, we also look at ways and means that help us reimagine the world of travel.

All of us love to see a little bit more of the world around us, and the stories we share about our travels help spread the word about what travel and tourism can really do for a person and for a region.

So what are the stories that we tell each other? These could be accounts of fun and adventure, of discovery and relaxation, of days and nights spent taking in the beauty of palaces, deserts, mountains and oceans.

But some of my favourite stories are about people. Those who are in the business of travel and tourism, those who we meet on our travels… Here are my top three travel stories — stories of kindness from some truly amazing hotel/homestay owners and hospitality staff.

A kind gentleman and a mad dash for a late-night pharmacy in Istanbul

World Tourism Day
Our trip to Istanbul will always be memorable, even though my husband caught a sunstroke. This is the view of the city as seen from one of the courtyards in the Topkapi Palace.

On our trip to Istanbul in August 2019, my husband caught a sunstroke. We had been out on a day trip to Büyükada (Great Island) and clocked about 35 km the previous day taking in all the sights. It was hot and sultry. We cancelled any other plans for the day, and headed back to our hotel. But at about 10.30 pm, my husband felt really unwell. He needed a paracetamol or its equivalent for a fever that wouldn’t go down. I rushed downstairs to the reception, asking if they had any over-the-counter medicines on them. They didn’t. The pharmacies around our hotel were closed. A kind man at the reception informed me that medicines like the ones I wanted weren’t available in supermarkets or over-the-counter. I must have stood there looking completely lost.

What he did next, I will remember for ever. He made a few calls. Located a pharmacy that was open. Called a trusted taxi driver. Wrote down the name of the medicine on a piece of paper and offered to go with the taxi driver and purchase the medicine for me. I didn’t want him to leave the reception desk because of me so I asked if I could go with the driver? What I didn’t put into words was, was it safe for me to go at 11 in the night in a taxi? It was as if he read my mind. “I know the taxi driver. He is very trustworthy. He will help you. But if you want to stay with your husband, that’s not a problem as well. The driver will fetch the medicines for you.”

I thanked him, and in the end decided to go with the driver. He took me to the pharmacy, spoke with the lady behind the counter in Turkish, and I was back at the hotel in under an hour or so. The following morning, I went to the reception. We were checking out, headed for a flight to Cappadocia. In my befuddled state of mind, I had forgotten the name of the gentleman who had helped me out the previous night. I asked the reception staff for details, put in a handwritten note that conveyed how I will always remember his kindness and grace. Three years later, I still do.

(In Istanbul, we stayed at the Double Tree by Hilton, Old Town)

At home in Bruges with a super host

World Tourism Day
With our host in Bruges, as she drove us to get groceries for the Christmas Day meal, her dog sitting in the front with my husband

In 2016, I took at trip to Belgium along with my husband and a friend. While in Bruges, we stayed at an Airbnb. Our host was an artist, and she had prepared our rooms with love and great attention to detail. She put up little chalkboards with personalised welcome messages, prepared fresh breakfast for us every day, gave us recommendations on what to see and explore. Plus, she also let us play with her dog, and would offer to pack us sandwiches, muffins and treats for our day out — at no extra cost! Every day, she would come and chat with us, telling us about her life, asking about ours.

We were going to be in Bruges on Christmas Day, and we hadn’t secured a dinner reservation as yet. As we were calling up restaurants, she asked if we would like to spend the evening with her and her family (her daughter, their friends.) We offered to make her a traditional chicken curry, rice and raita and she took us grocery shopping to an Indian store! Pick anything you need, she said. On the day, she left presents for us under the Christmas tree. And in return for the Christmas meal that we had prepared, she cooked a traditional Belgian chicken stew and home baked bread on the day we were leaving Bruges. In welcoming us to her home, going beyond what was on the ‘package/deal’ she helped us gain more than a touristy experience of Bruges. Whilst leaving, she said, “I don’t travel a lot, but with this Airbnb, the world, its people and their many stories come to me. Fare well and may we see each other again.”

When we got back to the UK (where we lived at the time), I lit a small lamp at my altar — just as I had promised my host in Bruges. She was due for a surgery, and had asked me if I would include her in my prayers. Our time in Bruges was special because of her, and my prayer and that candle was just a small way of saying thank you.

(In Bruges, we stayed at an Airbnb called B & B Waiting for Perrault)

A beautiful touch to a Goan holiday

World Tourism Day
Goa was certainly beautiful with its many beaches, stunning architecture and delicious food, but it was the affection and warmth of the couple who ran the hotel/homestay that made our trip so special.

When I was studying for my masters in journalism, I took a family trip with my parents. We headed to Goa — a state on the southwestern coast of India, known for its beaches, Portuguese and Konkani cuisine, as well as for susegad. That’s a word derived from Portuguese and refers to the laid-back, relaxed attitude to life that is typical to this state and its people.

Whilst there, we stayed in what was a homestay of sorts. A retired couple had opened up several rooms for guests in their beautiful old bungalow. It was surrounded by chickoo (sapodilla) trees and the couple were very warm and affectionate. I would spend some time every morning and in the evenings with the lady of the house. She would give me tips on exploring Calangute and its surroundings, and I would fill her up in the evening about the adventures we’d have had.

On the last day of our vacation, we had a very early start. Since aunty — that’s what I called the lady of the house — was sleeping, I bade a quiet goodbye to uncle, and made our way out as noiselessly as we can.

We were at the bus stand when uncle came running, almost breathless. And just then, our bus also made an appearance. There was barely any time. Uncle managed to put in my hands two spoons, made of shell, their handles encased in silver and metal.

“From aunty – for you. She is upset that I didn’t wake her up in time…”

Years later, by chance, I would visit aunty once again. For can you ever forget people and travel experiences like these?

(In Goa, we stayed at a bungalow in Calangute — it was owned and operated by the couple).

It’s true. It’s people that make places special. On this World Tourism Day, 2022, raising a toast to all those in the travel and tourism trade — from travel agents, tour guides, local operators, owners of homestays and Airbnbs and more. Thank you for your grace, dedication and kindness.



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