WTO: Caution in wake of bird flu

In light of the incidents of bird flu in Turkey the WTO says, “the tourism industry must not underestimate the threat and needs to keep preparing for the worst should it occur.”

However, the latest outbreak of avian flu in Turkey is not expected to have a serious impact on tourism in the country or the immediate region, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

“Our objective is to serve the travelling public and the world economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, in order to prevent or at least mitigate the impact of what so far is still a limited disease,” said Geoffrey Lipman, special advisor to UNWTO.

He will represent the Organization at International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza, in Beijing on 17-18 January. The conference is co-sponsored by the People’s Republic of China, the European Commission and the World Bank.

“We are continuously monitoring the situation, through contact with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other tourism-related organizations to ensure the tourism community is fully prepared in the event of a more widespread outbreak,” added UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli.

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He recalled the high-level meeting with the WHO Director General Dr Jong-Wook Lee held at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva on the 23rd of November 2005. UNWTO was represented by the Secretary-General Mr. Frangialli and colleagues together with IATA, ACI, IH&RA, IFTO and UFTAA - thus the representatives of airlines, airports, hotels and restaurants, tour operators and travel agents.

“Despite more cases of avian flu being reported among people, we are still at ‘stage 3’ in which no transmission between humans has been detected. No tourists have been affected, and we believe the current situation does not warrant any form of restriction or other discouragement to travel to any destination, whether for holiday or business,”

“But, as with residents in affected areas, we urge all tourists to follow closely the recommendations of national and local health and veterinary authorities, especially in regard to avoiding bird farms and other contacts with birds, before leaving or while travelling.”

Mr. Frangialli stressed: “It is far too early to talk about a crisis in tourism, in Turkey or any other country. Tour operators already have contingency plans in place in case of an outbreak and there is no reason not to stick with them.”

“However, we advise everybody involved in the travel industry to follow the recommendations of both UNWTO and WHO and to be continually on guard. In the event of any serious changes, we will, in cooperation with health authorities and other industry organizations, be ready to release further recommendations and guidelines.”

The UNWTO General Assembly at its 16th session in Dakar, Senegal, approved a special budget of €250,000 in addition to the regular budgetary resources in case of necessity regarding the avian flu this year.

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