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WTO TOURCOM conference in Bali promises a new era in tourism and media relations in Asia

Top experts in tourism communications and journalists from various countries addressed around 200 participants from 20 countries at the first Regional Conference on Tourism Communications

Top experts in tourism communications and journalists from various countries addressed around 200 participants from 20 countries at the first Regional Conference on Tourism Communications (TOURCOM), organized in Nusa Dua, Bali (Indonesia) on Friday. The Conference marks a turning point for media relations and crisis communications in Asia and the Pacific.

Organized by the World Tourism Organization in cooperation with the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the event has attracted decision makers in international tourism communications from the public, private sectors and a large group of journalists. The official sponsor partner of the event is Visa International – Asia Pacific.

The purpose of the Conference is to share experiences and exchange views on a wide range of tourism communications issues, such as media relations, corporate and marketing communications and to establish a new partnership between the tourism community and the travel and business media. Since Indonesia was hardest hit by last December`s tsunami, which indirectly affected its tourism image, a very important part of the Conference is dedicated to risk and crisis communications in tourism.

TOURCOM creates an opportunity for tourism and the media to listen to and learn from one another. The view of media professionals on improved communications, on the one hand, and explanations from the tourism sector on the workings of the tourism industry on the other hand, can contribute to constructive discussions and a better mutual understanding, WTO Deputy Secretary-General Dawid de Villiers said.

The two-day Conference was opened by a video message from the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami affected-Countries Bill Clinton, who underlined that tourists need more information about the impact the tsunami has had on tourist facilities. Some potential tourists simply do not know that many of the resorts in the region are fully recovered and open for business. As members of the media – you have the power to disseminate valuable information to the public, the former US President said.

Speaking on behalf of the WTO, Dr. de Villiers stated that in a world that is changing more rapidly and dramatically then ever expected communications has become a central pillar of information, understanding, progress and peace. Not only is the world moving forward like a fast flowing river, but from time to time it is shocked and shaken by dramatic and unexpected events – that disrupt the normal flow of things like cataracts disturb the flow of the river. The changing environment has made the tourism industry more aware than ever before of the need for effective communications.

Nothing has driven this message home more directly than the series of shocks and crises of the last four years beginning with September 11 and followed by more terrorist attacks, a war, a SARS epidemic, the tsunami, earthquakes, and so on. Communications is key to the challenge of managing a global industry in a volatile world,
underscored Dr. de Villiers.

The WTO`s TOURCOM event is an essential reminder to the public and private sector players in tourism industry how critical effective stakeholder communications is in this post-crisis phase. Based on the findings from Visa`s Post-Tsunami Global Travel Intentions Research released in March, consumers` main barriers to travel are clearly perception about the infrastructural readiness and safety of the destinations, said James Murray, Visa International Vice-President.

TOURCOM was officially opened by the host, the Indonesian Minister of Culture and Tourism Jero Wacik, himself a Balinese. He emphasized that the Conference is a crucial part of the Phuket Action Plan of post-tsunami recovery, which was adopted by the WTO Executive Council at its first special session in Phuket, Thailand, February 2005.

It is a great honour to host the media at this important event in Indonesia`s prime tourism destination, Nusa Dua in Bali, where people are born with a smile, Minister Wacik said.

I believe there are several reasons why this conference is very important for Asia and the Pacific. Thailand, Sri Lanka and Maldives have suffered in some of their main tourist areas, where tourism infrastructures were severely affected. During the tsunami, Indonesia has not been affected in its tourism infrastructure and destinations, but it is suffering of severe damage to its image.

He added that we want to learn from the media, from the communications experts present today with us, from all stakeholders present, how to overcome and restore confidence for the visitors in our markets, how to implement crisis communications strategies, how to improve our relations with the press.

Chief of the WTO Press and Communications Rok Klancnik highlighted that we chose Bali as a conference venue because it is a excellent symbol of a rapid tourism development in the developing countries. The time is ripe to expand the private-public partnership with another party – the media, who are invited to contribute to the process and act as a watchdog to ensure that tourism develops in a sustainable manner. Moreover, it is high time that we convey the message that Bali is a marvelous, safe, tourist destination that has successfully bounced back on the international market.

The WTO will stage three more regional tourism communications conferences, starting at the end of July in Abuja, Nigeria and in September in Riga, Latvia and Amman, Jordan.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.