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WTO Conference calls for Active Partnership between Arab World and International Media

Travel News Asia 22 September 2005

The Regional Conference on Tourism Communications for the Middle East and North Africa (TOURCOM), which finished on Wednesday in the Jordanian capital, called on international media to communicate the region's rich culture and help improve its image to increase tolerance in an increasingly polarized world.

Participants from more than 20 countries in the Arab world and beyond also urged National Tourism Administrations and the private sector to enhance their knowledge and increase cooperation with the media, especially in the framework of crisis communications, image building and cross-cultural communications.

Several speakers representing Middle Eastern destinations, including the Ministers of Tourism of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia made it clear that the tourism industry is committed to promoting peace and stability in the region. But they recognized that this message must be also clearly stated and promoted among Arab and International media.

National Tourism Administrations should be proactive, transparent and credible in their communications, especially in the time of crises, so as to create confidence and enable media's role as messengers and "pioneer tourists", the conclusions of the conference stated.

Crisis has become a fact of life for the tourism industry, so it is essential that destinations prepare a structure and a strategy for responding to a crisis and for recovering from it, participants agreed.

Countries must also carefully monitor travel advisories and work closer with the local embassies to make sure that advisories are not in place one moment more than necessary.

Egyptian experiences the recent terrorist attack in Sharm el-Sheikh were closely evaluated. "We urge other countries to follow the WTO crisis guidelines for tourism industry, which helped us to overcome negative impacts in relatively short time," said the Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Authority Ahmed el Khadem.

"Despite political and security issues, Middle East and North Africa posted an impressive growth of international tourist arrivals of 17% in 2004," stressed WTO Deputy Secretary-General Dr. Dawid de Villiers.

However, he added, the tourism industry is and must be even more instrumental in overcoming misperceptions about the Middle East in the Western world.

"We need to dissipate stereotypes on Arab world in Western media essentially caused by lack of knowledge of Arab and Islamic culture," said Dr. Taleb Rifai, former Jordanian Minister of Tourism in his conclusions.

"Furthermore", he added, "destinations must not sit and wait; they must be more active in their communications activities, design stories and messages and offer them to the international press". According to some speakers, the media should be treated as business partners in tourism development, on equal footing as the airlines and tour operators.

Graham Cooke, the President of the World Travel Awards, underscored the importance of new media, especially Internet, and a multi-lingual international approach to reach wider target audiences. "If the Middle Eastern destinations want the outside world to understand their culture, they first must understand theirs, too," he said.

A special attention was given to tourism awareness in the region.

According to WTO consultant Deborah Luhrman, "Societies in this region should not perceive tourism as threat to their way of life, but welcome it as the powerful instrument for economic development, employment, international cooperation and peace, not the least also as a driving force of sustainable development."

The conference was organized by the World Tourism Organization in cooperation with the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and was held ahead of the meeting of the WTO Commission for the Middle East and North Africa under auspices of Minister Dr. Alia Hatough-Bouran.

Participants included representatives from most of the Arab countries, including Iraq, and the Palestinian Authority. During the conference, Argentina invited the WTO to organize a similar event for the Americas next April. The next TOURCOM conference - for Europe - is scheduled to take place in Riga, Latvia, on 12-13 October.

See other recent news regarding: World Tourism Organization

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