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UN agency unveils web portal to help tourism industry respond to disasters

UN agency unveils web portal to help tourism industry respond to disasters

Expanding its effort to help international tourism respond to natural or man-made disasters, a United Nations agency has unveiled a new Internet portal in collaboration with Microsoft that will eventually provide round-the-clock tracking of emergencies such as bird flu or conflict from the travel perspective.

“Our goal is to serve the industry and eventually tourists themselves with this new tool which has been made possible through the close working relationship with Microsoft,” UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Assistant Secretary General Geoffrey Lipman said of the BETA site at a ceremony at the World Travel Market in London yesterday.

“In the coming months we will seek expanded industry input as we move from a BETA to a live system” which will provide continuous tracking of major emergencies from a tourism perspective, he added.

Initial action is related to bird flu where the information and response system has been focused for the past year. It will house the Tourism Emergency Response Network, a loose grouping of global, regional and national industry organizations collaborating to exchange information and develop public messages in relation to a potential flu pandemic.

UNWTO first announced its collaboration with Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, in June at the Global Leaders Forum for Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, with two immediate projects. The first, called “Windows on Africa,” showcases the continent in a globally competitive way and ultimately aims to provide real-time advice via mobile devices with destination specific data.

The second, supporting UNWTO’s Emergency Response System, collates information on catastrophes affecting tourism, providing a framework for improved industry response by bringing together public and sector-specific data and incorporating tools for information sharing and improved messaging. It is this initiative that the BETA site enhances.

It will help tourism destinations and stakeholders to respond more rapidly and effectively in emergencies and help recovery programmes.

In a related development, the agency pledged its support to help Lebanon’s tourist industry recover from this summer’s conflict between Israel and Hizbollah.

“UNWTO and its members stand behind Lebanon,” agency Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli told a news conference at the London meeting. “Our sector is only a part of the losses suffered in Lebanon, but tourism is of great importance for the economic recovery and development of the whole country.”

According to UNWTO figures, the recovery in Lebanon during the first quarter of 2006, with a 49 per cent increase in tourist arrivals over an 11 per cent decline in 2005, was reversed from July with a 58 per cent.