ITB 2024 Special Reporting
US travel agents to boost Thailand's post-tsunami comeback.
Tuesday, 15th February 2005
Source : Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)
Sixty-one travel representatives from North America leave Thailand today with one message: the Phuket and Krabi area of southern Thailand is more than ready to receive tourists.

The American team visited southern Thailand on a one-week inspection tour called the "Flight of Friendship - A Mission to Save Jobs". The delegation was a combination of travel-related businesses, many of them PATA chapter members and "citizen ambassadors" who simply wanted to show solidarity for communities affected by the December 26 tsunami.

Co-Chairperson for the mission, Mr Sho Dozono, President of Oregon-based Azumano Travel, said: "Our trip validated what we assumed - that the damage to Phuket was minimal. It should be high season, but many places only have 10% occupancy. It's tragic that the media has created an impression of destruction. We will report back to consumers, trade and media and push for tourism to return."

One of the Flight of Friendship team, Mr Frederic Bursch, President of Bursch Travel and Treasurer of the American Society of Travel Agents, said: "I was surprised things had recovered as much as they had. Infrastructure was in much better shape than I thought it might be. Customers certainly needn't fear coming. Everything is much better than I had envisioned - and great value."

The Friendship mission held meetings with the Tourism Authority of Thailand which gave them DVD video evidence from Phangnga, Phuket, Krabi and Trang provinces. The video showed that all areas were ready to receive tourists again, although damage to the Khao Lak and Phi Phi areas was severe. However, even in Phi Phi there were resorts on outlying beaches that suffered no physical impact. These hotels are still open and anxious to receive guests.

While in Krabi, the mission gave US$1,000 to families who lost 'longtail' water taxi boatmen on December 26. The visitors donated life jackets and gave supplies for local schools.

PATA President and CEO Mr Peter de Jong said: "PATA salutes the generosity and compassion of the Flight of Friendship team. They took direct action to help afflicted communities in the south. The mission now goes back to America with a positive message to tell consumers, trade and media -- and it is a credible message based on first-hand experience."

Azumano Travel Vice President Mr William Harmon said that while the physical impact in some areas of Phuket had been minimal, the subsequent economic impact caused by tourists cancelling was "greater than expected".

"In Krabi at the resort we stayed at they hadn't had more than 20 rooms occupied since the end of December and one handicraft shop nearby hadn't made a single sale." He added: "In front of the Phuket Hilton Arcadia hotel the beach massage ladies had had no customers in 10 days. Small businesses can only handle four to six weeks of no customers. We need to get tourists back now."

At a reception at the Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok on February 13 Mr Dozono thanked the Thailand-based tourism industry suppliers who had made the Flight of Friendship possible: The Peninsula Hotel, Asia Heritage Travel, East West Siam, the Montien Riverside Hotel and others.

The group concluded the reception on the eve of Valentine's Day with a chant of "America Rak Thailand" - America Loves Thailand.
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