World Tourism Organization to launch New Tsunami Related Awareness Campaign at ITB

Travel News Asia 1 March 2005

The World Tourism Organization is urging the media to look hard at its coverage of humanitarian relief to destinations afflicted by the tsunami in order not to cause misunderstanding among potential travellers and slow the recovery of tourism.

"The best way to help the Indian Ocean destinations, in particular Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand and Indonesia, is to encourage tourists to return, " said WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli. "Saturation coverage of the tragedy in the most damaged areas can lead to a certain level of misunderstanding among consumers," he said, especially when around 80 per cent of hotels and resorts in these destinations remain fully operational. 

"We hope to avoid another 'infodemic', as happened two years ago during the SARS crisis," said the Secretary-General. "The Global Code of Ethics for Tourism spells out the responsibilities of stakeholders in the tourism industry. It calls on the press, and in particular the specialized travel press, to 'issue honest and balanced information on events and situations that could influence the flow of tourists'; and to provide accurate and reliable information to consumers of tourism services." 

Mr. Frangialli stressed that the WTO was not trying to intervene in editorial policies, but urged the media to take care in distinguishing between two different issues. "One is the global humanitarian campaign to help people regain their homes, normal conditions of life and work and overcome the loss of their loved ones". "Another is the story about tourism recovery. And one of the best ways to help bring relief to those who have suffered is to encourage the immediate return of tourism to Phuket, the west coast of Sri Lanka and Maldives, where for many local people tourism is their sole source of employment and income." 

The tsunami hit hardest in areas of no significant tourism, he added. "The leading destinations in Indonesia, Bali, Lombok, Yogyakarta and Jakarta are thousands of kilometres away from the epicentre off the tragic province of Aceh in northern Sumatra and were not affected at all. But their tourism image is facing a serious challenge".

As part of its Phuket Action Plan for tsunami recovery, the WTO is to launch an awareness campaign -"Holiday with your heart - travel to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand and Indonesia" - at the world's largest travel fair, ITB, in Berlin in March, conveying the message that "we must look to the future, and it is the duty of the international community to support the affected countries as they embark on the arduous road to recovery". 

The WTO has invited a group of tourism journalists to visit the four countries and provide them with a balanced report on what work is being done. In mid-May a regional conference on tourism communications (TOURCOM) will be staged in Bali.

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