HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]: 

Can tourism really bring peace?

Tsunami-survivors, victims’ relatives invited to attend December 26 memorial

Harrah’s ups the stakes in casino bid

Singapore still shopaholic’s haven

Thai government keen to strengthen air hub status

Direct Vienna-Phuket a boost for south’s recovery

BOT: Tourist arrivals decline 2% in August

Largest Chinese outbound group to visit Land of Smiles

Airports of Thailand decision slammed

Thai Airways starts direct Bangkok-Moscow in November

Third quarter indices reveal cheaper airfares: American Express

Can tourism really bring peace?

Dr. Iain Corness

Yes, tourism can bring peace, if you listen to the message being broadcast loudly by Louis D’Amore, the quietly spoken president of the IIPT (International Institute for Peace through Tourism).

D’Amore was present in Pattaya for the 3rd Global Summit on Peace through Tourism, with the theme being One Earth, One Family, Travel and Tourism serving a Higher Purpose. After the summit, I was able to sit down with the man at the helm to discuss his concepts.

Louis D’Amore, the quietly spoken president of the IIPT (International Institute for Peace through Tourism).

The background to the entire movement came from a study on the future of tourism, carried out by D’Amore 30 years ago for the Canadian government, monitoring the trends with implications on tourism. This was then expanded to become a global viewpoint, rather than an insular Canadian one, which had to take on board the growth in terrorism. “The future didn’t look too good,” agreed D’Amore, “so we began to look for how the world’s largest industry could be an influence for good.”

By 1986 terrorism was beginning to peak and tourism slid by 33 percent. There was certainly a nexus between the two, but how was the IIPT going to reverse the trend?

In an attempt to bring up as many concepts and plans of action as possible, the first global conference was held in Vancouver in 1988, with 800 registrants from 67 countries attending, listening to 200 papers and video messages from ex-US President Ronald Reagan and the late Pope John Paul II.

While this obviously did not bring a halt to terrorism, D’Amore felt that it did “create a meeting place for people, and be validated by one another.” The aim was to also create networks and a coalition of partners committed to the concept of tourism as a global peace industry. “Make things happen,” said D’Amore.

Louis D’Amore, members of the delegation and local Pattayans gather at the new IIPT Peace Park.

Unfortunately, what was really happening was an escalation of terrorism, despite the rhetoric and more conferences and summits, no matter how many organizations and individuals were called to the fold. Obviously the terrorists were not in attendance.

D’Amore understands all this and is looking at addressing the root causes of terrorism. “Have we studied the root causes? Why did the planes fly into the World Trade Center?” It would be an over-simplification, but D’Amore believes that poverty provides the breeding ground to recruit terrorists. “We need to address poverty,” he says simply.

But it does not stop there. “The fear of each other produces hatred, distrust and death,” he adds. “The only way we can get to know each other is through tourism. We condemn terrorism, but we have to forgive and move forward to the betterment of all of us.”

To most minds, this is a Utopian solution. While forgiveness might be good for the soul, it needs both sides to proffer that olive branch, and that is not really happening. D’Amore even admits, “We have been imposing our culture on the rest of the world. As the economic giants we can impose our will.”

In some cultures, terrorists are known as ‘freedom fighters’ so where does ‘right’ and ‘might’ fit in there? D’Amore agrees that further violence is not the answer, and yet the briefest perusal of any daily newspaper from any country, including Thailand, shows that governmental responses are just that. Violence.

However, is this something new? Even the poorest student of human history will have heard of the Crusades, holy wars theoretically covering a span of almost 200 years from 1095 AD. However, even the Catholic Encyclopedia websites will admit that “In reality the Crusades continued until the end of the seventeenth century, the crusade of Lepanto occurring in 1571, that of Hungary in 1664, and the crusade of the Duke of Burgundy to Candia, in 1669.” The revered St. Francis of Assisi was actually just one of the ‘freedom fighters’ of the day. The Catholic Encyclopedia again stating, “During the next year (1214) Francis set out for Morocco, in another attempt to reach the infidels and, if needs be, to shed his blood for the Gospel.” The concept of martyrdom is nothing new, so why should we be amazed that suicide bombers will shed their blood for their cause?

D’Amore again agrees that this is historically true, and has no real answer to this present continuation, but does have some salient points for us to ponder. “We need a new paradigm where we respect individual people,” he says. He pins his faith on backpackers, whom he describes as “the first generation of global citizens. They will have the leadership positions in 20-25 years,” he says. Towards those ends, the IIPT is forging strategic alliances with youth travel organizations. “Tourism does give hope for many people and makes for wealth creation. Tourism brings more money than international aid. Home-stay tourism allows the traveler to meet the people.”

Can tourism truly bring peace? The answer, in my mind after talking with D’Amore, is probably yes, but it will need the individual to make the decisions, rather than having them made for him by countries, religions and ideologies or dogma. 20-25 years says D’Amore. I sincerely hope it will be that short. I would like to think of my children as benefiting from a global community, but for me, the jury’s still out.

Tsunami-survivors, victims’ relatives invited to attend December 26 memorial

The Thai government will invite, with an offer to pay for flights and hotel rooms, immediate relatives of over 2,400 tsunami victims who were killed and 11,000 others injured in the tsunami in Thailand last year, to join the disaster anniversary memorial on December 26 at five locations in Thailand’s tsunami-devastated southern Andaman coastline.

Following a meeting of the Tsunami Memorial Ceremony Organizing Committee which he chaired on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapanlop said that morning ceremonies would take place simultaneously at Phuket’s Patong and Kamala beaches, as well as Ban Nam Khem in Phang-nga, and Phi Phi Island in Krabi.

A Tsunami Memorial foundation stone-laying ceremony at Khao Lak Lamlu National Park of Phang Nga will be presided over by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the evening.

Kho Lak will also have an exhibition displaying tsunami early warning systems. Also shown will be the five finalist design concepts chosen for the Tsunami Memorial, one of which will be selected as the winner to be constructed.

Invitations will be sent to one relative of each of those who died - about 2,400 persons, both Thai and foreigners, and to each of the injured - over 11,000. Among those invited are 64 VIPs, including three heads of state, four presidents and 30 ministers. Acceptances of the invitations are to be reaffirmed by November 1.

Travel and accommodation expenses for invitees who attend the anniversary memorial ceremony will be paid by the Thai government, which has assigned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to invite foreign guests, and the Ministry of Interior to coordinate local invitees, with the help of student volunteers, the deputy prime minister said.

In addition to commemorating the tsunami victims, the first anniversary will also review developments in rehabilitating the Andaman coastline, including the restoration of tsunami-damaged infrastructure, and demonstration of an early warning system, Suwat said.

The Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning are now installing 62 tsunami warning signal receiving towers in the six Andaman provinces. Everything possible is being done to assure the highest level of safety preparedness.

“We can reassure the public and tourists that the Andaman is now ready in every way to welcome tourists back,” said the deputy premier. (TNA)

Harrah’s ups the stakes in casino bid

Harrah’s Entertainment and Keppel Land have roped in SMG, a US-based marketer and operator of convention centers, to boost their bid for Singapore’s first casino resort at Marina Bay.

Harrah’s senior vice-president for business development, Richard Mirman, said: “Our strategy is to assemble a team of the finest companies in their respective industries to collectively develop the most exciting and unique must-visit urban resort in Asia.”

SMG hosted more than 9,000 events that attracted more than 50 million delegates to its 176 managed convention centres, arenas and facilities across Europe and the US in 2004. The tie-up with Harrah’s is its first foray into Asia.

Early this week, the Singapore Tourism Board postponed the launch of the request for proposals for the two casino resorts at Marina Bay and Sentosa, from end September to end November and the first quarter of 2006, respectively. (TTG Asia)

Singapore still shopaholic’s haven

This year’s two-month long Great Singapore Sale (GSS) scored a record S$5 billion (US$2.96 billion, Bt.120 billion) in sales, in part racked up by tourists.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said tourists contributed S$650 million (Bt.15.6 billion) to the total sales this year and had spent an average of S$1,415 (Bt.34,000) on shopping, which was a 22 percent increase over the average of S$1,160 (Bt.27,800) last year.

STB’s assistant chief executive for leisure, Dr Chan Tat Hon, said: “We have achieved a record high of over 1.6 million visitors during the two-month period of June and July, and we know that GSS is a key contributor to this record.

“Tourism shopping today accounts for half of the total expenditure by visitors. As such, GSS will remain a key driver for tourism receipts and brand Singapore as the region’s shopping hub.”

Earlier this year the STB announced its goal to double visitor arrivals to 17 million and triple tourism receipts to S$30 billion (Bt.720 billion) by 2015, and the key markets expected to drive the growth are Indonesia, India, China and Malaysia. (TTG Asia)

Thai government keen to strengthen air hub status

Thailand is pushing forward open-skies agreements with several countries including South Korea, Japan, India, Switzerland and the US, in a bid to strengthen Suvarnabhumi Airport’s positioning as the aviation hub of Asia.

Transport Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal is confident that more open skies will benefit the country, particularly once the new airport is open with a first phase capacity of 45 million passengers.

Talks with the US have shown the highest potential as the agreement proposal has already been acknowledged by the Cabinet. If approved, Thailand and the US could increase the current services from 14 flights per week per city to 28 flights in 2007 and 35 flights in 2009. Both countries could enjoy unlimited services from 2010 plus additional rights to serve passengers when flying via third countries. (TTG Asia)

Direct Vienna-Phuket a boost for south’s recovery

In a lift to Phuket’s struggling tourism industry, Austrian Airlines has announced a direct weekly service between Vienna and Phuket.

The airline will fly once a week to the island every Saturday from November 5 to March 25. From December 13, the service will be increased to two flights per week with the extra flight available every Tuesday.

The airline will offer 24 business-class and 234 economy-class seats in a Boeing 767. It expects full bookings for the Vienna-Phuket flights, carrying some 14,000 passengers. (TTG Asia)

BOT: Tourist arrivals decline 2% in August

Slightly more than one million foreign tourists visited Thailand in August this year, down 2 percent from the corresponding period of 2004, according to a report issued by the Bank of Thailand (BOT).

Foreign tourists entering the country through the deep South in August also dropped due to various factors, including concerns about the tsunami which had devastated the country’s six southern Andaman coastal provinces of Phuket, Phang-nga, Krabi, Trang, Ranong and Satun last December. Other deterrents include air pollution (smog from Indonesia) and the current violence in the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Hotel room occupancy in all parts of Thailand in August stood at 63.8 percent, compared to 66.1 percent in the same period of 2004, said the central bank, adding that hotel room occupancy in the South alone retreated sharply to 44.2 percent, compared to 60.1 percent in August last year. (TNA)

Largest Chinese outbound group to visit Land of Smiles

An incentive group consisting of 7,000 employees of a Beijing-based healthcare product company set off for Thailand on a six-day/five night leisure tour on October 8.

This is so far the largest outbound tour group China has ever seen. The group was sub-divided into 12 smaller groups, departing from 33 different locations in China.

China International Travel Service (CITS), the tour organizer, said the event was initiated by the National Tourism Administration in an effort to help Thailand recover its tourism from last year’s tsunami.

Statistics show that before the tsunami, an average of 600,000 to 700,000 Chinese tourists visited Thailand every year. This year, the figures fell to 200,000.

It took CITS nearly a year to make proper logistic arrangements for the tour. The group visited Bangkok and Pattaya. It also visited tsunami-affected communities and offered donations. The group was also received by Thai royals and government officials. (TTG Asia)

Airports of Thailand decision slammed

Airports of Thailand’s (AoT) decision to halve the landing fee for charter flights at Phuket airport for three months in an attempt to lure more international tour groups to the tsunami-battered island is headed for failure, according to a leading travel industry figure.

Diethelm Travel Thailand managing director, Richard Brouwer, said timing was crucial if such a move was to be successful and he doubted AoT had got that right.

He said: “It’s not easy for someone to decide within a short period of time to fly to Phuket. It takes marketing and tour operators filling seats, and that has to be done in advance. I’m afraid the result will not be what they want.”

The decision to halve the landing fee was announced yesterday and the reduction will come into effect this month.

Shortly after the tsunami, the travel industry proposed that the AoT either reduce or waive airport service fees to entice carriers to keep flying to Phuket, but the cabinet rejected the plan.

Brouwer said that since then many airlines had stopped flying to Phuket, although Europe, spearheaded by Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia, was rebounding.

Total aircraft movements at Phuket airport fell 25 percent in the first nine months of the year. (TTG Asia)

Thai Airways starts direct Bangkok-Moscow in November

Thai Airways International will introduce direct flights to Moscow three times a week from November 1.

The Bangkok-Moscow (Domodedovo) service will operate on MD-11 aircraft every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Flight TG974 leaves Bangkok at 10.35, arriving in Moscow at 16.25. Flight TG975 departs Moscow at 18.20, arriving in Bangkok at 07.05 the following day.

To promote the new service, Thai Airways is offering promotional fares until January 31 next year, starting at 31,000 baht (US$755) for an economy ticket, 76,000 baht for Royal Silk and 89,000 for Royal First tickets. (TTG Asia)

Third quarter indices reveal cheaper airfares: American Express

The third quarter American Express Airfare Index for Asia Pacific in 2005 shows slight reductions in airfares compared to the previous quarter for most classes of travel on routes from Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, and Thailand, and for Business Class airfares from New Zealand.

In Hong Kong, First Class airfares increased 0.3 percent. Business Class airfares were unchanged. Full Economy fares fell 0.1 percent while Discount Economy fell 0.3 percent. Lowest Peak Season Excursion and Lowest Off Season Excursion airfares both fell 0.2 percent. Year-on-year increases for First Class, Business Class, Full Economy and Discount Economy Class fares were 3.1 percent, 3.0 percent, 0.2 percent, and 0 percent respectively.

According to head of Consulting Services Japan, Robert Tedesco, the majority of airlines had instituted temporary fuel surcharges which were additional to the movements in published airfares monitored by the Airfare Index.

The overall indices for the region have increased steadily over the past three years in First and Business Class, up 8.3 percent and 9.7 percent respectively over the three years ending the third quarter of 2005. The Full Economy and Discount Economy airfare indices increased 5.8 percent and 5.5 percent over the same period.

Meanwhile, leisure travel economy categories grew at a slower rate, with a 2.3 percent increase in the Lowest Peak Season Excursion and 2.9 percent for Lowest Off Season Excursion across the three-year period. (TTG Asia)