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WTO: Tourism experts seek answers

Measures to help the tourism industry overcome the current economic downturn and global instability were mapped out by an international panel of…

Measures to help the tourism industry overcome the current economic downturn and global instability were mapped out by an international panel of experts meeting in Greece over the weekend.



The World Tourism Organization Business Council held its 3rd Leadership Forum of Advisers in Thessaloniki on 1-2 November in connection with the Philoxenia tourism fair at the invitation of the Hellenic Tourism Organization.



Hellenic Tourism Organization President Jannis D. Patellis and World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli opened the think tank meetings, which included 50 international tourism experts from the private sector representing hotel chains, airlines, tour operators, cruise lines, universities and tourism promotion boards.



The purpose of this meeting was to identify in a quiet, reflective and thoughtful way both the problems facing the tourism industry and the best ways of dealing with them, said Martin Brackenbury, chairman of the WTO Business Council and president of the International Federation of Tour Operators.



The issue of traveller confidence brought on by the problems of economic weakness in global markets and terrorist attacks over the past year were of overwhelming concern throughout the world. Delegates called for new short-term tourism forecasting to help companies make good business decisions in a rapidly changing marketplace. They also urged governments to take a pro-active approach to tourism communications in order to reassure travellers about the safety of destinations.



Additional regional concerns were outlined in detail, for example, Europe faces the challenge of maintaining its competitivity while Mediterranean destinations are trying to extend the tourism season in a region that currently has a surplus of capacity. To do this, new forms of marketing partnerships need to be developed between the public and private sectors, as well as on a regional basis.



Participants from the Middle East emphasized the urgent need to increase communication between the Moslem world and major generating markets in order to help overcome negative stereotypes.



African and Latin American nations are still lagging behind in tourism and need more support from lending institutions to provide financing for development.



WTO needs to publish studies which demonstrate in hard figures the ability of tourism to alleviate poverty in the developing world so that we can make sure it is high on the agenda of governments and multi-lateral aid organizations, advised David Bridgman of the World Bank group.



In Asia, experts pointed to the burgeoning number of Chinese tourists travelling abroad for the first time and called for more studies detailing the characteristics of this important new generating market. They also said training in site management is urgently needed to Asian countries in order to safeguard cultural heritage and fragile environments that are coming under increasing pressure from tourism.



Results of the Leadership Forum will be presented later this week at a meeting of the World Tourism Organization’s Programme Committee and will help shape the future direction of the United Nations-linked organization.

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