UN agency seeks to boost tourism to tsunami-hit nations
Seeking to avoid a new “infodemic,” a repeat of the slump in Asian tourism from the SARS health crisis two years ago, the United Nations tourism agency has called on the world’s media to take care in its coverage of destinations hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami so as not to slow the recovery of an important economic sector.
“The best way to help the Indian Ocean destinations, in particular Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand and Indonesia, is to encourage tourists to return,” World Tourism Organization (WTO) Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said.
“Saturation coverage of the tragedy in the most damaged areas can lead to a certain level of misunderstanding among consumers,” he added, 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,” he stressed, referring to the steep fall-off in travel to the Asia-Pacific region during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 774 people and infected more than 8,000 worldwide, the vast majority of them in China.
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, later this month in Berlin.
“The Global Code of Ethics for Tourism spells out the responsibilities of stakeholders in the tourism industry,” Mr. Frangialli said. “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.”
He stressed that 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,” he said.
“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 (Thailand), 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 noted, adding: “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.”