Communication is Key to Tsunami Recovery

The TOURCOM international conference for travel industry communicators closed in Bali this weekend with a call to allay the fears of consumers who think it is still not appropriate to holiday in December’s tsunami affected areas.
One hundred and ninety delegates from 20 countries heard that because initial crisis communications efforts had subsided, there was still a need for “varied and sustained” communications, especially as demand for travel to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the Phuket region of Thailand was still well below seasonal levels. Travel industry speakers said that the March 28 earthquake in the Nias area of Northern Sumatra and subsequent tremors caused demand for Indian Ocean destinations, which had been returning, to decline again.

Summarising the conclusions from the two-day event, Mr Thamrin Bachri, Deputy Minister for Capacity Building and International Relations in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Indonesia, said that national tourism offices (NTOs) with limited budgets should use public relations techniques and the Internet more than advertising, which tended to be expensive. Nevertheless, he said tourism officials and the private sector should work together to lobby for additional funds for marketing and communications. Mr Bachri said national tourism offices who did not have dedicated communications departments should get one and optimize it. Speakers also called for more communications training for young tourism professionals and said tourism departments should build strong relations with the media in good times and not just in times of crisis.

Addressing the delegates in a crisis communications session, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Director-Communications, Mr Ken Scott, said that in times of crisis, travel industry communicators must be flexible, honest, innovative and fast. Maps should be quickly created and distributed to show the limited geographical impact of crises such as the tsunami, SARS or bird flu. At a suitable time, testimonials from travellers recorded on site should be used to restore consumer confidence, he said.

In a video message to the delegates, the UN special envoy for tsunami-affected countries, former US President Mr Bill Clinton said, “Part of our task in to convince people around the world that so many places in the region have been rebuilt and are ready to accept tourists today.”

“The public will come to realise how many tourist destinations are even safer and more welcoming than they were prior to the day the tsunami struck” he added.

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Mr Bachri said future TOURCOM gatherings should explain the power of new technologies to marketing professionals in the travel industry and include Pacific Island participation.

The TOURCOM regional conference on tourism and communications for Asia and the Pacific was organized by the World Tourism Organization.
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