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TRAVEL & TOURISM
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]: 

Aquanauts Dive students help restore sea turtle population

Twitter-powered American duo named Internet Pattaya ambassadors

Navy, governments join to promote Pattaya as wreck diving destination

Bangkok Airways congratulates TAT’s new governor

Winter flights surge heralds Thai tourism recovery


Aquanauts Dive students help restore sea turtle population

24 interns and staff from Aquanauts Dive Centre visit
the Sea Turtle Conservation Center in Sattahip Naval Base.

Staff reporters
After diving regularly alongside endangered sea turtles, a group of Pattaya scuba diving instructor trainees got a chance to help rebuild their population by releasing juvenile turtles into the wild.
During a Nov. 25 excursion to the Royal Thai Navy’s Sea Turtle Conservation Center in Sattahip, 24 interns and staff from Aquanauts Dive Centre, a PADI 5-Star Career Development Center on Soi 6 near Beach Road, were treated to a lecture and video presentation about the Navy’s work to rebuild Thailand’s five endangered breeds of sea turtles, tour an educational exhibit, visit its aquarium and nursery and, in a grand finale, release 6-month-old baby turtles into the sea.
“As a leader in protecting the area’s marine environment, Aquanauts wanted to give our students first-hand knowledge about one of the creatures they see and dive with every day,” said Aquanauts Managing Director Roger M. Smith.
“As divers, we all get excited when we are lucky enough to see a sea turtle on a dive. They are so beautiful and graceful as they move effortlessly through the water,” said Aquanauts IDC Staff Instructor Sally Rathbone. “However, more importantly, they play key roles in ecosystems that are critical to them as well as to humans. If sea turtles were to become extinct, the negative impact on beaches and the oceans would be enormous.”
Divers can expect to find Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Leatherback and Green turtles while in Thailand with Green turtles being the most common in Pattaya Bay. Green turtles are also the most endangered of all of Thailand’s sea turtles. The Navy’s Sea Turtle Conservation Center is combating this by rescuing eggs laid on Koh Khram and two smaller islands nearby that all fall under Navy jurisdiction and working with fishing fleets around Thailand to protect the animals while still preserving the fishermen’s way of life.
A key part of that is rescuing eggs after they’re laid. The center has gone from raising just 700 turtles a year to more than 20,000 today. They are raised in nursery tanks until they are six months old. Tank water is changed daily and sick turtles are nursed back to health while kept in isolation.
“I was surprised by just how much work the center does, releasing more than 20,000 turtles per year,” said IDC Staff Instructor Megan Smith. “It was fascinating seeing so many turtles so close together and we were fortunate to be the only group there at the time, so we had lots of time to ask questions and observe these amazing creatures.”
The highlight of the day came after the lecture and tour when all the interns went to the waterline to set a few of the baby turtles back into the sea. “We all stood back, watched in awe and took photos at what must be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Smith said.
More than 200,000 students and community groups visit the center each year although many don’t get the same opportunity to set turtles free. The center plans to release 983 turtles back into the wild Dec. 5 in honor of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his 83rd birthday.
The meat of the sea turtles and their eggs are regarded as delicacies in many parts of the world, especially in Asia. The combination of poachers and natural threats from birds and sea creatures mean the survival rate for unprotected turtles is about 1 in 100. With the Navy’s help, that as increased to 50 percent, said Lt. Cmdr. Kwanmoung Karestre, a center guide.
The Navy visit is only part of Aquanauts’ commitment to preserving the marine environment. In addition to regular beach and reef cleanups, Aquanauts exclusively offers a program it calls “Eco-Tec Dive Training” which gives all its professional-training students a free suite of environmental courses, including the Project AWARE marine conservation course, Project AWARE Coral Reef Conservation and National Geographic Diver, which teaches students to identify plants and animals as well as document the man-made impact on dive sites.
Aquanauts divers are also taught not to chase or try to touch the turtles while diving, not to dispose of plastic bags in the sea as turtles eat them thinking they’re jellyfish, a favorite turtle food. And Aquanauts also urges students not to buy any turtle products, such as meat and eggs, or any product made of their shell, such as jewelry, hairbrushes or other fashion items.
“The work done by the Sea Turtle Conservation Center is vital to the survival of these beautiful animals,” said Rathbone who, with Megan Smith, developed Aquanauts’ Eco-Tec curriculum. “But we also need to do our bit as divers to help them if we want to continue to see the sea turtles on our dives.”

Lt. Cmdr. Kwanmoung Karestre instructs visitors how to
best release the young turtles back into the wild.


Twitter-powered American duo named Internet Pattaya ambassadors

Bob James
An American couple that Twittered, YouTubed and Facebooked their way to the top of the virtual ballot box have been selected by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to promote Pattaya as a tourist destination using Internet “social media”.
Florida residents Ben Reed, 28, and partner Brian Sommer, 29, arrived in Pattaya Dec. 10 for a six-day assignment to tour and promote the city using websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. At the same time, they’ll be encouraging fans to vote for them over four other teams vying to win $10,000 and the title of “Ultimate Thailand Explorers.”
For Reed, a corporate trainer, and Sommer, a physical therapist, beating out hundreds of potential Pattaya ambassadors worldwide proved a daunting task.
“While some teams had been to Thailand before or lived there, we had not,” Sommer said in an interview from this Orlando home. “So it was challenging during the entry period to promote Thailand without having been there before.”

Ben (left) and Brian (right) have been selected by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to promote Pattaya as a tourist destination using internet “social media”.

They compensated by highlighting Thai-related activities near them, including Thai restaurants, a cultural booth at Walt Disney’s Epcot Center and where to buy Thai travel books.
“This helped us to build an Internet following and demonstrated we had the necessary skills to repeat these efforts for Pattaya,” he said. “The TAT noticed our work and selected us as semi-finalists.”
Another eye-opener was Pattaya itself, which the two admitted they’d never heard of before entering the contest.
“What may come as a surprise is that even many of our friends and family also had not heard of Pattaya or its reputation,” Sommer said. “And while we’ve done a lot of research about the city since we applied, we still don’t know what to expect once we arrive. Every travel guide that we have read mentions Pattaya’s storied past and present, but we believe behind every curtain and neon sign is a vibrant community of people who want to connect and tell their story. Our goal is to find that story, bring it to life and share it with the world and create a new story for the future.”
It’s unlikely the two will see much neon during their TAT-chaperoned Pattaya holiday. The pair has been given a list of “must see” attractions including Underwater World, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Flight of the Gibbon, the Tiffany Show and Pattaya Beach. They also get to choose from a TAT-approved list of optional outings that include family-friendly Pattaya Floating Market, Million Years Stone Park, Bottle Art Museum and Yannasangwararam Temple, as well as Walking Street.
On their Facebook “fan page,” the couple is letting fans vote on what optional attractions they should visit.
“Our research on Pattaya has shown a diversity of experiences for adults, locals, families and young backpackers,” Sommer said. “We look forward to sampling a bit of every perspective to help make Pattaya a part of every traveler to Thailand’s itinerary.”
That TAT wants that diversity shared through social media shows just how important the Internet’s role in learning about and booking holiday destinations has become.
For Reed and Sommer, the work began with Twitter, a “micro-blogging” website where dispatches are limited to 140 characters and accessed largely on mobile phones. Today they have more than 270 “followers,” or subscribers, and add about five a day, Sommer said.
“We initially concentrated our efforts on just Twitter but while Twitter is still a powerful tool, the majority of Internet users communicate through Facebook,” he said. Today most of the duo’s efforts go into their fan page, which can host links, videos and photos. As of last week, the pair had 170 fans with about 60 more subscribing each week. They also have started harnessing the power of the Web’s largest social-media site, YouTube, by producing videos and letting fans add comments.
It started as a lot of work and now has gotten to be nearly a full-time job.
“The chance at a free vacation was certainly an attraction but, as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” Sommer said. “We’ve worked awfully hard on our various social media sites to have this opportunity.”
Since being named one of 25 semi-finalists, the pair spent up to two hours in the morning and as many as four hours each evening catching up on Twitter ‘tweets,” creating and editing videos, uploading content, searching for new communities to reach out to and promoting their work, he said.
“Now that we are finalists, our workload is increasing each day as we chart out the daily blogs. It’s safe to say that if something doesn’t help out our efforts to promote Pattaya, it’s been placed on hold.”
Their efforts will go into overdrive once they return home from Pattaya and they get into the last three weeks of competing against teams representing Bangkok, Samui and Phuket to see how can best harness today’s hot Web technology to promote their cities and win the Ultimate Thailand Explorers’ title Jan. 8.
“Traveling internationally or just in your own backyard is an enriching chance to discover more about your community and yourselves,” Sommer said. “Many travelers neglect the discovery part. They may visit the highlights, but miss learning what really makes a city come to life. We don’t know what that will be for Pattaya, but that’s part of the fun of traveling.”
Reed and Sommer can be followed on Twitter at www. twitter.com/benandbrianthai and Facebook at www. facebook.com/pages/Ultimate-Thailand-Explorers-Ben-Brian/128431649795. Their blog and more information on the TAT contest can be found at www. ultimatethailandexplorers.com.
 


Navy, governments join to promote Pattaya as wreck diving destination

New Pattaya Dive Club formed

(L to R) Captain Chettha Jaipium, director of the Civil Navy Military; Dr. Dhorn Dhamrongsawasdi, advisor to the director of Marine and Coastline Resources Department; Hans Ulrich, head of PADI South East Asia; Niti Kongkrut, director of TAT Pattaya; Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome; Serm Phenjati, hotel consultant, dusitD2 baraquda pattaya and Mikamin Charujinda, director of the Marine and Coastline Resources Department launch the new Pattaya Dive Club.

Staff reporter
Pattaya officials, the Royal Thai Navy and the Tourism Authority of Thailand have joined forces to market Pattaya as a premier wreck-diving destination with the formation of a new dive operator club and the sinking of another shipwreck within two years.
Tentatively called the Pattaya Dive Club, the association will promote all the city’s dive companies through a joint internet website that will be advertised worldwide with funds from both the city and the dive operators.
At a Nov. 28 seminar at the DusitD2 Hotel in Pattaya, Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome, TAT Pattaya Director Niti Kongkrut, PADI Thailand Regional Director Hans Ulrich, Navy Capt. Chettha Jaipium and Dhorn Dhamrongsawasdi, advisor to the director of the Marine and Coastline Resources Department discussed ways to develop a tourism plan to bring divers to Pattaya. Officials agreed that while areas such as the Similan Islands offer better coral-reef diving and more wildlife, Pattaya has a unique draw in its three existing deep wrecks, the HTMS Khram and Kood and the Hardeep wreck in Samae San.
Ulrich said Mayor Itthiphol and Niti Kongkrut were especially enthusiastic about promoting wreck diving and that Navy officials discussed the possibility of sinking yet another wreck within one to two years. Much will depend, he said, on the ability of Pattaya-area dive centers to cooperatively promote and advertise the city as a destination and not just their own businesses.
Itthiphol has already signed up to earn his Open Water Diver certification and Niti has volunteered to temporarily head the new dive club until dive operators can get together and name their own president.


Bangkok Airways congratulates TAT’s new governor

M.L. Nandhika Varavarn (3rd right), vice president of Bangkok Airways’ Corporate Communications presents a bouquet to congratulate Surapol Svetsreni (3rd left) as the newly appointed governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.


Winter flights surge heralds Thai tourism recovery

Sirima Eamtako,
TTG Asia

The number of winter flights to Thailand has increased, according to Thai ground handler LTU Asia, indicating a possible recovery in the Thai tourism sector.
LTU saw an overall growth of five to seven percent in the number of winter flights from airlines it handles at Phuket and Krabi International Airports.
The company expects to handle 800 scheduled and chartered flights by 10 airlines to Phuket from October 27 to March 27, 2010.
LTU Asia managing director Raymond Honings said all flights would be operating at full load factor, bringing in around 200,000 travelers to Phuket alone for the winter season. These flights were on top of the other scheduled and chartered services to Phuket not handled by the company.
“Thailand is still a value for money destination. The euro and Australian dollar remain strong against the Thai baht so the country has the potential to win back tourists in this high season.”
Meanwhile, LTU expects to handle 112 flights to Krabi International Airport during the October to March winter season.



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