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ETTFA Comment on… Tsunami relief

The International Tourism Industry reacted quickly to help countries affected by the Asian tsunami disaster, and travel exhibitions are very much part of the relief effort.There is broad agreement that the best way of helping these countries is to persuade tourists to return, despite the upsetting images that may put off visitors and infrastructure damage to some resorts – especially Phuket in Thailand. So expect a strong Asian presence at most travel shows this year, as countries and individual businesses reach out to trade partners, media and travellers themselves.

The Maldives, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka all increased their presence at the MITT and UITT shows in Moscow and Ukraine. Frederique Maurell, senior events and sales manager of MITT and UITT organiser ITE Travel Division, says: “The affected regions are eager to prove that they have bounced back and reacted quickly.

“I decided to issue a statement via our website that those countries would be exhibiting. Communication is essential, and these events contribute to spreading the message to thousands of clients, media and associations.

“We use the media to promote our clients, and support them at times of crisis and times when tourism is flourishing.”

The ITE Group raised funds for tsunami relief through an independent charity appeal, while Hungexpo, the government-owned organiser of the UTAZAS travel exhibition in Budapest, offered free exhibition space to the countries affected. UTAZAS director Klara Tihanyi, who is EFFTA president, says: “Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India are taking about 120 square meters of free space at our exhibition in March, which may not be much but is significant in a small market such as Hungary.

“At previous events we have tried having charity collection boxes, but they were not successful. People will give more when they get something back – a charity pop concert, for example.”

One of the most successful charities in the international tourism industry is the Just a Drop, set up in 1998 by World Travel Market in London as a means of providing clean water for children and families wherever it is needed. Within one month of the tsunami it had already raised over $400,000 for victims, and it is now planning for the longer term.

Fiona Jeffery, chairman of the board of trustees and director of WTM, says: “Just a Drop is an established and fully recognised charity, and will monitor projects from start to finish to ensure that the money is spent wisely and efficiently. There are many communities in Asia where their whole sanitation system has been wiped out and they have no clean water for drinking, cooking or washing.

“Making a donation or agreeing to hold a fund-raising event means you are assured of being kept informed about projects, with up-to-date reports about how the work is going.”

Just a Drop has also been influential in arranging a freight charter to Sri Lanka loaded with medical supplies and water purification equipment, and arranging shipments of 30,000 bottles of water. “More fund raising ideas and donations for the disaster fund are coming in daily,” adds Fiona Jeffery. “We ask the industry, both personally and corporately, to give as much as they are able.”