World Tourism Organization to hold Avian Flu Briefing at ITB 2006

Travel News Asia 2 March 2006

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will use the world's largest travel fair, the ITB in Berlin next week, to hold its first in a series of briefings on avian influenza and preparedness planning.

UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli and his Special Advisor Geoffrey Lipman will be joined by the heads of major travel organizations including David McMillan, IH&RA, Peter de Jong, PATA and Martin Brackenberry, IFTO. A video overview from UN System Influenza Coordinator David Nabarro will start the event.

The one-hour briefing commencing at 9.15 a.m. in the ICC will focus on action by the international community, coordinated under the auspices of the UN, to respond to the current outbreaks of avian influenza, the very limited implications for tourism to date and the plans being initiated to minimize impacts in the future.

The goals are both to inform stakeholders of the importance of preparedness and to begin a process of extending the information and response network. The briefing will also pay special attention to the situation and needs of the poorest countries and will lead in to UNWTO's ST-EP Forum, which has become a traditional event at the ITB.

"The issue of avian influenza and the possibility of mutation of the virus to a human influenza is out there now and we should focus on it in a measuered and rational way" stressed Mr. Lipman "So far its impact on tourism has been minimal, but we need to prepare for all eventualities. There is a need for efficient sharing of information and preparation. Tourism is a vast dynamic global network. We have to play our part in the international community response while minimizing the disruption to travel, which is at the heart of economic growth and development."

The Secretary-General's letter to the member States on avian influenza

The UNWTO Secretary-General Mr. Francesco Frangialli wrote to the member States on 27 February, seeking their support regarding avian flu.

"At the recent session of the General Assembly in Dakar we considered the issue of Disasters affecting Tourism. The Assembly agreed that they were of serious concern and established a Members' Task Force to work with the Secretary-General to develop UNWTO strategic action on Disaster Risk mitigation. The Task Force will meet on 16 March in Paris and will prepare proposals for the Executive Council in June," wrote Mr. Frangialli.

"In the meantime, I would like to advise you of our current and planned activities in concert with intensifying United Nations action on avian flu. I would also like to seek your support in responding rapidly and cohesively to this serious and escalating challenge. The incidences of avian flu are growing and tourism will eventually be affected. It is therefore our duty both to mitigate the impacts and to play our part in the national and international community response. We have taken the following measures:

- Set up an internal structure that builds on experience with crisis management and particularly the Tsunami response to ensure effective preparedness capacity.

- Established a website database that provides good, accurate information and serves as a reference point for Members and third parties. We plan over time, with support from partners, to make this a focal point for our communications.

- Started to engage industry stakeholders in the public and private sector to work together in a common preparedness effort.

- Intensified our work with the World Health Organization (WHO), to ensure we have the most up-to-date and relevant information available on a real time basis - particularly as the WHO assessment and notification system and national emergency response plans are put in place.

- Committed as a part of the UN System Influenza Coordination (UNSIC) team and along with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have accepted special responsibilities in relation to communication - as it affects travellers. In this context we have agreed with the UNSIC coordinator David Nabarro to start our special industry awareness efforts at the International Tourism Fair ITB Berlin on 10 March.

- Begun to link closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to ensure that our efforts dovetail and travellers receive consistent advice.

- Attended key international meetings in Geneva, Beijing and Singapore which are establishing framework response approaches.

- Led a session in Davos looking at ways to respond to disasters generally and avian flu specifically, as well as releasing a study on Disaster Response undertaken with the World Economic Forum.

- Appointed my Special Advisor Geoffrey Lipman to spearhead these efforts and to act as spokesperson, with myself, on avian flu matters.

There are two measures that I want to propose to you for immediate action to better ensure our collective preparedness:

- First and foremost: seek to engage fully in national preparedness efforts and keep us advised of this interaction.

- Second: designate a senior level coordinator to be our principle point of contact on all matters related to avian flu, and advise me of their name and contact details," concluded Mr. Frangialli in his letter.

Avian flu affects birds. It rarely affects humans. However, the "H5N1" virus causing the current outbreak of disease is a very deadly strain. The danger is that this virus could mutate into a human influenza virus and spread rapidly. At this stage no such mutation has been detected, action is focused on containment of the avian disease. No tourists have been affected. The World Health Organization does not recommend any travel restriction but does recommend health precautions to people visiting specific confirmed localities.

The international community is however preparing for the possibility of human related influenza. The tourism sector, a central part of international commerce and leisure, is involved in this preparation.

The global response is being led by the United Nations and its System Influenza Coordinator (UNSIC) is working with national governments who are in turn primarily following WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provisions.

The World Tourism Organization, the lead UN agency for the sector, is supporting the industry and its consumers by keeping them regularly informed on the evolving avian influenza situation and recommended response measures. It is also supporting tourism administrations in their actions within national and international preparedness plans.

UNWTO is working in a network of government and industry bodies committed to making travel as safe as possible and ensuring that the sector is fully prepared for any influenza developments.

See other recent news regarding: Avian Flu, UNWTO, ITB, Berlin, Travel Trade Shows

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