The International Tourism Exchange ITB Berlin is committed to the rapid recovery of the tourism regions affected by the South Asian tsunami, according to Dr Christian Göke, chief executive officer of Messe Berlin.
“As the world’s most important trade fair for the global tourism industry, we feel a particular bond with the people of South Asia. Prior to, during and after the ITB we shall do everything in our power to assist the tourism regions that have been affected.” As a meeting place for the international tourism industry the ITB Berlin is the ideal platform for developing initiatives and for motivating travellers. “Every vacationer who continues to travel to Asia is helping to support the victims,” he adds.
Göke reports that the tsunami had not led to the cancellation of stand areas. “Especially in the current situation, exhibitors from South Asia appreciate the importance of the ITB as a forum where they can provide their worldwide partners with first hand information and promote their countries and their products,” he says. There has been no sign of any cancellation of display space as a result of the tsunami. Compared with last year the area occupied by Asian exhibitors has even increased by 60 per cent. Göke adds: “As a result of the excellent level of bookings we were even able to plan a second Asian hall with a further 6,000 sq m, and this still remains the situation.”
The ITB Berlin has introduced the first concrete measures aimed at assisting the work of reconstruction. Only a day after the tsunami the fair website (www.itb-berlin.de) included the call for donations by the Pacific Asian Travel Organisation (PATA) for the victims of the floods. Also in collaboration with PATA, an event is being planned on this subject as part of the ITB Congress Market Trends & Innovations. Its title: ‘The PATA Forum: Indian Ocean destinations are back!’
Messe Berlin is also cooperating with the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), which has announced a ‘Tourism Leaders Forum’ on the Berlin Exhibition Grounds during the ITB Berlin. The consequences of the tsunami will be analysed and efforts will be made to find the quickest ways of reconstructing the devastated areas.
In association with the aid organisation ‘Plan International’ Messe Berlin has also launched a campaign to raise funds for the victims of the floods. The money raised will be used to assist the province of Hambantota in South Eastern Sri Lanka, which was particularly badly hit by the tsunami. The campaign was launched by the chief executive officer of Messe Berlin, Raimund Hosch, at the opening ceremonies of the International Green Week, when he handed over a cheque for 10,880 euros to a representative of the organisation. This sum will enable 30 families to buy boats and nets as a long-term means of safeguarding their livelihoods.
Leading industry representatives also back the calls being made by the ITB Berlin to travellers, reminding them not to turn their backs on the devastated region. Klaus Laepple, president of the DRV and chairman of the Supervisory Board of the ITB says, “The tourism industry declares its unreserved support for the countries that have been affected by the tsunami. Especially in such a difficult situation it is vital to provide families that depend on tourism with an economic basis and long-term prospects. Every traveller can play a part, and I can only encourage vacationers to keep South and South East Asia in their plans. The International Tourism Exchange in March in Berlin is the ideal way of finding out about the possibilities for travel to these regions.”
Peter-Mario Kubsch, general manager of Studiosus-Reisen and also a member of the Supervisory Board of the ITB adds: “One of the main tasks of the tourism industry will be to encourage positive opportunities for development in the wake of the catastrophe in South and South East Asia. The vast amount of damage caused by the giant waves has also created an opportunity for developing a new vision and new concepts in tourism policy. I believe it is vital that reconstruction is carried out with the emphasis on sustainability and quality. At the same time the degree of interest in the region, and sympathy with it, are demonstrated not only by the generosity of donors but also by the continuing high level of demand by our customers for travel to the countries which have been affected.”
This is similar to the views espoused in the affected regions. Eckard Kremer, managing director, Pacific Leisure Group in Bangkok, whose services have been engaged by the ITB to arrange for trade visitors to come to Berlin says, “From our viewpoint it is important to draw geographical distinctions between the countries that have been stricken by the floods. When those of us here read the overseas press the impression given is sometimes very distorted. In the case of Thailand, for example, one might think that the whole country had been destroyed by the floods. This is incorrect! Some areas, such as Phuket, were hardly affected at all by the flooding. And therefore it is of major importance for the economy that a return to normality can be achieved as soon as possible: it is vital that tourists return to the region for their holidays and that the local population can see encouraging prospects for the future.”
But there are other areas, such as Khao Lak, where the work of clearing up the devastation and of reconstruction will certainly take a year or more to complete. Kremer continues, “We understand that tourists must first regain their confidence before they come and visit us again. That is why the government of Thailand is currently in the process of formulating new laws which, in the case of new hotel construction, would specify a greater minimum distance from the beach.”
Helmut Drotleff, general manager, Transorient Touristik GmbH, Hamburg, following his recent visit to Thailand says, “After all the confusing and in some cases misleading information in the media I have visited the affected areas in Thailand myself in order to gather detailed and objective information, and to pass on my impressions to our marketing partners. My conclusions are: Krabi, Phuket, Koh Lanta and Phi Phi are ready to receive tourists again, without any reservations. There are no signs of epidemics or centres of infection. It is now up to our partners in the travel agencies to revitalise the region. To recapitulate what I found during my trip I would like to quote a local hotel manager who made the following, forceful appeal: ‘We do not need donations – we need tourists!’”
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