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

Tourists flock to see 800,000 year-old trees

Mekong forum adds simulated crisis session

Media Caution is required regarding SARS

PM denies allegations the “Thailand Elite Card” is a flop

Tourists flock to see 800,000 year-old trees

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Prapat Panyachatraksa expressed concern for the fate of fossilized Malabar ironwood trees thought to be over 800,000 years old discovered in Tak Province.

Prapat said that reports from the Department of Mineral Resources suggested that the fossilized Malabar ironwood logs, discovered in the Mae Salit-Pong Daeng Forestry Reserve, were the largest and most complete of their kind ever to have been found in Thailand.

The giant logs have a diameter of around 1.80 meters, and are 20 meters long. They are buried in sediment, believed to be from an ancient river which preceded the Ping River, and are thought to date back 800,000 years.

Prapat said that other fossilized logs of varying sizes had also been discovered in the same area, and that the Department of Mineral Resources and the Botanical Gardens Agency had now been asked to carry out a thorough review of the area, but is concerned that the fossils could face threats from local residents and tourists.

“I’m worried that the release of this news will cause more crowds of local residents and tourists to come and see the fossils, as the place where they were discovered is only three kilometers from Baan Tak district, and is also near the tourist area of Khao Phrabat. Unwitting tourists will touch the ancient wood and take pieces home with them for themselves. This could damage the fossils.”

Stressing that the fossilized logs were extremely rare, he called on local people to protect the fossils as part of the nation’s natural heritage. (TNA)


Mekong forum adds simulated crisis session

PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) has added a special full-day session on tourism reputation and crisis management to the 9th Mekong Tourism Forum, Chiang Mai, Thailand, March 26-28.

Participants in the March 26 pre-Forum seminar will have to cope with a simulated crisis, which will touch on issues now affecting tourism. The program, titled “Catch Me If You Dare”, is a joint initiative by PATA, Bangkok-based The Winning Edge and consultancy firm TIRIAN. TIRIAN managing director, Andrew Grant said, “Crisis management, ethics, values, leadership, cross-cultural differences and many more subjects are tackled head-on. We create a fast-paced and realistic scenario.”

Tourism executives can join at a special PATA-sponsored fee of US$80 net per person, which includes lunch and coffee. The seminar runs 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on March 26 at the Sheraton Chiangmai Hotel (the Mekong Forum venue). More information about the seminar is available at www.catchmeifyoudare.com

The theme for the 9th PATA Mekong Tourism Forum is, “Protect, Position and Promote,” which reflects PATA’s commitment to managing the reputation of Asia Pacific travel and tourism. Issues on the table at the Mekong Forum include product development and private-sector investment. Three breakout sessions will focus on the practicalities of the Forum’s theme.

For more information about the Mekong Forum, please contact PATA manager-support services, Aaron Tan, tel. (66-2) 658-2000 ext. 125. Fax: (66-2) 658-2010. E-mail: aaron @pata.th.com. Web site: www.pata.org


Media Caution is required regarding SARS

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) informs

The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), responding to fears that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) may re-emerge, is calling for media restraint and accuracy. PATA is reminding the media and public that the World Health Organization has not issued any travel advisories pertaining to the one suspected SARS case now under surveillance in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in southern China (PRC).

In contrast with the emergence of SARS early last year, highly sophisticated surveillance and response mechanisms are now in place around the world. Furthermore, China (PRC) medical authorities have been praised by the World Health Organization for the speed, efficiency and transparency of their response to the one isolated case last month.

As of January 9, China (PRC’s) Health Ministry says there is only one suspected case - a waitress in Guangzhou City, who is under surveillance in an isolation ward.

PATA president and CEO, Peter de Jong said all parties must not make the same mistakes as last year. “I particularly urge the consumer media not to fan the flames of public fear by overstating the threat of any new outbreak of SARS. This is a time for the media to show its professionalism by maintaining perspective and not hyping the issue. Because of misplaced hysteria 10 months ago, thousands of people in the Asia Pacific travel industry lost their jobs. This must not happen again.”

On January 8, the WHO said in an official release: “Symptoms of SARS mimic those of several other respiratory diseases, including many that are more frequently seen during the winter months. Some of these diseases may also give rise to atypical pneumonia. It is likely that numerous other suspected cases will be reported over the coming weeks.”

The PATA president and CEO said, “All of us have to remain vigilant. The travel industry across the Asia Pacific region has taken all reasonable measures to ensure travelers’ safety and well-being in face of any new health challenge. PATA will continue to take a leading communications role to protect our industry whatever the threat.”

PATA urges local authorities facing any future suspected cases of SARS to take quick and decisive measures to contain the problem. Health authorities should then inform the public of measures taken and keep them fully updated with the latest developments.

For further information on health issues, PATA recommends the media and public visit the pages of the World Health Organization Web site relating to SARS at: http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en/


PM denies allegations the “Thailand Elite Card” is a flop

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is downplaying allegations that his ‘Thailand Elite Card’ scheme to attract the world’s rich and famous to the kingdom had proved a spectacular flop, expressing confidence that the establishment of exclusive golf clubs, entertainment complexes, and hotels for cardholders would enable the government to reach its target of 100,000 members by the end of this year.

Responding to accusations that the government had failed to sell many of its Elite Cards - priced at 1 million baht each and aiming to procure privileges for wealthy visitors - Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Juthamas Siriwan conceded that there had been some ‘misunderstandings’, often caused by the cardholders failing to coordinate with the relevant agencies. Nonetheless, she said, the cardholders had been unanimous in their praise for the manner in which the cards afforded them a fast track passage through immigration at the Don Muang Airport.

The TAT governor noted the need for Thailand Privilege Card Co., the private sector agency running the Elite Card scheme, to establish a ‘city club’ with golf courses, entertainment venues, and hotels exclusively for the use of Elite Card members.

“Once the cardholders come, they’ll have somewhere to stay. We won’t ask them to buy their cards and then wander off here and there. There should be things to attract sales, or attractive golf clubs for the members which offer first class services. There could be takeovers in order to give something special to the members. The prime minister wants such things established as soon as possible,” Juthamas said.

Nonetheless, she stressed that the construction, or takeover of golf courses, and other venues would be the responsibility of Thailand Privilege Card Co., rather than of the government, and admitted that construction could take a couple of years. She said that until the new complex was completed, the cards would continue to be sold as normal. (TNA)