A meeting of top international experts and the first ever special session of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) Executive Council, convened at very short notice on the island of Phuket, Thailand, will mark the beginning of large-scale international action, with which WTO intends to accelerate tourism recovery in the tsunami-affected areas.
Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli stressed, that “the future of tourism in the impacted region highly depends on a normal tourism process in destinations so popular among thousands of tourists, seeking relaxation in unspoilt nature among friendly hosts”. “WTO leads a broad international campaign, aiming at the normalization of tourist flows according to last year’s growth and, where necessary, shifting the tourism products in the region towards the principles of sustainable development”.
WTO has sent two prominent tourism professionals on a fact-finding mission to the region. Their findings will serve as a basis for the Emergency Task Force’s discussions on the 31 January regarding the actual needs of tourism destinations in the Indian Ocean. The Task Force will include all 29 Members of the Executive Council, important regional organizations, such as the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), the Economic-Social Council of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and donors organizations.
“It is symbolic for WTO to meet in the destination that was most affected, yet, for the most part, is still operational,” the Secretary-General stressed. “Notwithstanding the unusually high cost in human lives and the impact that the media’s vivid reporting of such a tragic event may have had, we shall do all we can to ensure that international tourism continues to act in the countries affected as a force for rebuilding stricken communities and generating the wealth that will give them a better life.”
Proposals from the Emergency Task Force will form the core of the “Phuket Action Plan”, expected to be adopted by the Executive Council on 1 February. The paper will be presented to the public on 2 February, at a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand.
While the implementation of the plan will proceed immediately, WTO shall together with Messe Berlin convene a meeting of the Leadership Forum a day before the opening of the world’s largest travel fair, ITB Berlin, in the German capital. “The purpose will be to draw together global support for the region, explore the challenges facing the destinations concerned and mobilize a sustained worldwide response from the sector - public, private and civil society,” Mr. Frangialli added. “This will be fed into the overall United Nations initiatives.”
Harsh Varma, WTO Chief of the Technical Cooperation Department, stressed that the Organization has received several offers of financial and technical assistance in the region. “With the generous help of several countries, among them the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands, several international and regional organizations and the private sector, we shall create a special fund which will enable us to conduct projects in crisis management, tourism development policies, education, promotion and communications,” Dr. Varma underlined. VISA Asia Pacific and the Republic of Korea will be the event partners of the Phuket meetings and WTO media and communications strategy.