TSUNAMI AID: People-to-people group visits Phuket


Travel agents to be shown area is still worth visiting

“The Flight of Friendship – A Journey to Save Jobs” will fly in tomorrow from the US to try and save jobs by offering an economic lifeline to Thais dependent on the battered tourism industry for their livelihoods.

It is a people-to-people fact-finding-cum-solidarity mission staged by 50 business people and politicians from Portland, Oregon, as well as over a dozen travel professionals from around the US. They will concern themselves particularly with the post-tsunami plight of such low earners as waiters, maids, tuk-tuk drivers, small shopkeepers and dive-operators.

It all began with an anonymous benefactor who donated US$25,000 (Bt960,000) to Nicholas Stanley, the honorary consul-general of Thailand in Portland, towards encouraging Americans to travel to tsunami-ravaged Southeast Asia and help save jobs.

The donation was handed over to Sho Dozono, a prominent Oregonian and travel-industry player, who led some 1,000 Oregonians on a “Flight for Freedom” mission to New York in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Dozono is now spearheading a similar mission, and the donation he is handling will be used to pick up tabs for domestic air-travel costs for travel professionals.

Dozono said that the popular perception internationally that the entire region had become a disaster zone was fuelled in no small measure by ignorance in the travel industry. He cited a recent poll of travel agents published in USA Today, which indicated that over half of the travel agents in the US were advising their clients to avoid Southeast Asia entirely, while almost a fifth counselled delaying trips and 15 per cent recommended cancelling booked trips. Only 3 per cent of polled travel agents encouraged their customers to visit countries in Southeast Asia for their holidays.

Flight of Friendship, Dozono said, is meant to change some of that mind set by exposing travel-industry professionals and other key individuals to a first-hand perspective of the realities on the ground in Thailand and giving them a proper perspective. Members of Flight of Friendship enjoy the full support of the American Society of Travel Agents, the Pacific Asian Travel Association and the Travel Industry Association of America.

Phuket has been chosen as the destination for the mission, he said, because it is the best-known and largest resort area affected by the tsunami.

Phuket’s tourism industry is losing some $10 million a day even though 60 per cent of the island’s resort hotels are up and running. In Krabi, some 50,000 people are likely to lose jobs as 6,000 rooms continue to remain empty.

“The Thai government is among the many calling on tourists to return now,” Nick Stanley said. “While there are great efforts to repair communities and rebuild families, this is an important time to help. This mission will help put out that call for people to travel.”

Ralph “Skip” Boyce, the US ambassador to Thailand, will officially welcome members of the Flight of Friendship mission to Bangkok at a reception in the Montien Riverside Hotel.

In Phuket, the group will meet Phuket’s governor to hand over $86,000 raised by the Thai Association of Oregon for a water-filtration system and $1,200 raised by Portland resident and Thai native Nattawan Thangvijit specifically for children orphaned by the tsunami. Funds raised by nine-year-old Jake Stein-Ross from his classmates will also be handed over to help Thai schoolchildren.

Published on February 06, 2005

Cora Sukhyanga

The Nation

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