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Surviving the odds

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The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit, one of the most influential travel and tourism events of the year, is geared to host its annual summit this year bringing together nearly 1,000 industry leaders to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the industry. As a mark of its commitment in fully supporting Japan in its recovery process from the massive Tohoku-Pacific Ocean earthquake followed by the massive tsunami on March 11, 2011, and by the nuclear power plant accident triggered by the tsunami, the council has decided to open its 2012 global summit in Sendai with a Sendai Recovery and Asia Outlook Summit (in association with PATA), followed by a plenary Global Summit session in Tokyo. Express TravelWorld presents an insight into destinations which have been recent victims of natural calamities and the kind of challenges that they faced to rebuild the destination and bring back tourists.

Japan

The devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck northeast Japan in March 2011. The most serious natural disaster to hit the country since the 1995 Kobe earthquake, it also triggered Japan’s worst ever tsunami resulting in a nuclear crisis as the country’s major energy source faced meltdown. The initial impacts were dramatic as international inbound arrivals fell by 62 per cent in April 2011 (over the same month in 2010) – a greater impact than it had been observed with other previous natural disasters in Japan. There was also greater initial uncertainty regarding the path of recovery due to the nuclear emergency and operations at Fukushima. Failure to contain the situation quickly and successfully could have affected travel and tourism confidence for many years. Domestic demand rebounded more quickly than anticipated, and had fully recovered by the second half of 2011. The emerging trend of increasing travel intensity among young Japanese actually strengthened and is now reportedly higher than under original baseline assumptions. After the initial large falls, international demand also began to rebound in 2011, evolving in line with the initial low impact scenario.

WTTC’s most recent data, suggest that the total negative impact of the earthquake and tsunami on travel and tourism’s contribution to Japan’s GDP was roughly ¥0.7 trillion and confined largely to 2011. Data from the Japan National Tourism Organisation and STR Global also suggest that Japanese domestic and outbound tourism has recovered ‘losses’ to levels consistent with or better than forecasts made prior to the earthquake. Due to the dominance of domestic tourism relative to inbound tourism, this implies that total Japanese travel and tourism demand and GDP will have been recovered by the end of 2011. Though there was a noticeable negative effect, this should not have any lingering impact in 2012. This recovery can be attributed to the speed of the restoration of basic infrastructure immediately after the earthquake, and has been supported by the ongoing appreciation of the yen.

Inbound travel has yet to fully recover and for 2011 as a whole, foreign visitor arrivals are expected to be around 25 per cent lower than in 2010. Arrivals continue to be in line with WTTC’s previous low impact scenario which states that international tourist arrivals will recover in numbers by early 2012.

David Scowsill, president & CEO, WTTC, stated, “Nine months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit northeast Japan, the country’s tourism industry has exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts and is well on the way to recovery. Japan has been doing a great job in particular with marketing efforts both internally and externally and has reminded the world of the unique products Japan has to offer.” He added, “However, there is still some work to be done to  attract previous levels of international visitors, particularly from long-haul markets where there may be residual nervousness regarding the nuclear situation, and where economic strife continues. WTTC’s 12th Global Summit, to be held in Sendai and Tokyo  will showcase Japan’s recovery and bring world travel and tourism leaders together to demonstrate that Japan really is open for business.”

Thailand

Thailand’s floods last year severely affected Bangkok and some other central provinces along the Chao Phraya River. Overall, 14 MICE events, mostly tradeshows planned to be held in and around Bangkok  were affected with revenue losses estimated at 2.98 billion baht and a MICE visitors shortfall estimated at 96,000. The impact of the floods on domestic transportation in  the Bangkok area led organisers to reschedule events due to concerns over participant numbers. But Thailand has always bounced back after a calamity.

“The variety of destinations Thailand has to offer helps mitigate the impact of the floods affecting the Bangkok area,” said Akapol Sorasuchart, president, Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB). “Also, thanks to steps we are taking with the cooperation from the industry, we expect that Thailand’s MICE business will remain stable for the entire fiscal 2012,” added Sorasuchart.

In the fiscal year 2011, which ended September 30, 2011 Thailand’s meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions sector attracted 720,000 business travellers and generated 57.6 billion baht (US$1.85 billion) in revenue, compared respectively to 679,585 travellers and 55 billion baht in fiscal 2010.

When asked on the steps taken to assure and support the travel trade community in Thailand to revive the tourism potential, Sethaphan Buddhani, director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai office said, “Since the launch of its representative office in 2007 and the TAT Mumbai office in 2009, we have been effectively disseminating regular updates to the entire database of travel agents and tour operators on a PAN India basis whilst also keeping the media informed. During the political crisis in 2008; and the recent flood situation, TAT had maintained an open dialogue to keep them updated on the latest developments. During the political protest in Thailand, TAT disseminated updates along with information of the hotels where people could seek refuge. We had also communicated the helpline number where people could communicate with their relatives. Besides emailers, TAT Mumbai also sent newsletters and regularly corresponded individually with travel agents and tour operators who were facing problems.” While it is a challenge to rebuild the destination after a natural calamity, to the strategies adopted, Buddhani added, “The overall crisis management objective is to keep the retail chain informed and updated so that clients can benefit from the timely updates. The strategic activity was to use the internet and emails as a viable source of information. The confidence building strategy was to continue promoting Thailand by means of advertising, conducting media educational tours, participation in exhibitions and workshops.”

Queensland

Tourism Queensland faced two major challenges during the flood and cyclone crisis of 2011.  First was to assist those operators and destinations that were physically impacted by the events and also to combat the perception that the entire state was either flooded or blown away. Once the destination was ready to welcome visitors again – in many cases operators were back to business days or short weeks after the disasters hit, the tourism board addressed this challenge with the ‘Nothing Beats Queensland’ campaign.  This was largely a domestic campaign aimed at driving bookings during the critical Australian Easter holiday period (the floods and cyclone hit in January/February of 2011).  Internationally, it also undertook activity in several of key markets where negative publicity of the disasters had been strongest.  The state and federal governments allocated AUD$ 10 million for the ‘Nothing Beats Queensland’ activity which included:

  • AUD$ 4.5 million for interstate marketing, including a brand and retail campaign under the tagline “Nothing beats Queensland – Where Australia Shines” telling Australians that Queensland is open and featuring a range of competitive holiday packages.
  • AUD$ one million for intrastate marketing encouraging Queenslanders to support their mates by holidaying at home and incorporating a ‘Queensland Pledge’ from the state’s tourism operators to tell the world that that they are staging a comeback.
  • AUD$ one million targeting New Zealanders as Queensland’s largest international market.
  • AUD$8 00,000 for a global youth and adventure traveller campaign aimed at getting backpackers into Queensland to quickly inject new expenditure into Queensland’s destinations. 
  • AUD$ 700,000 for a global publicity blitz which included bringing more than 100 international and domestic travel writers, news journalists and bloggers to Queensland simultaneously.  This was the single largest event of its kind in Queensland history.
  • AUD$ 400,000 each for retail campaigns in Queensland’s top Japan, China and UK markets encouraging visitors from these countries to come and visit Queensland now. 
  • AUD$ 300,000 for marketing activity across the rest of Queensland’s international markets.

During this period, it blitzed Australian media through every channel possible – including paid advertising, news stories on major TV programmes, newspapers and magazines, and online through social media channels.  Tourism Queensland also encouraged operators to post their own photos, comments and videos of visitors enjoying holidays in their destinations post-floods and cyclone. In association with the state government, Tourism Queensland also ran a series of industry development workshops in 2011 aimed at assisting operators increase their business resilience.

In conversation

Paul Buggy, regional director, India, ME, Korea and South Africa, Tourism Queensland spoke on how the tourism board tackled the natural disaster that struck the Australian state.

When hit by any natural calamity, what measures are taken to safeguard life and property of as many tourists as possible? 

Tourism Queensland (TQ) is a marketing organisation and as such we weren’t involved with on the ground activity in protecting tourists’ safety and possessions. Emergency Management Queensland (the Queensland Government crisis response unit), takes the lead in coordinating activities undertaken before, during and after a disaster or emergency to minimise adverse community impacts.  Tourism operators in areas of higher risk for natural disasters (eg cyclones) also have robust emergency management procedures and work with their local government and emergency personnel to ensure the safety of all members of the community – including visitors. Tourism operators also work closely together and support each other – eg when Brisbane’s five-star Stamford Hotel was evacuated during the 2011 floods, other major hotels in the city came to their assistance to re-house guests.

What steps were taken to assure and support the travel trade community in your country to revive the tourism potential?

TQ set up a crisis communications group consisting of TQ, key government representatives, and regional tourism organisations.  This group collated daily information on the status of the natural disasters in their regions. Relevant information was then communicated to key travel industry in Australia and to each of TQ’s 13 international offices, who in turn communicated with their key travel trade partners.

How long would it take for the tourism industry to get back on its feet, post a natural disaster and its intensity?

This is a difficult question to answer.  Many operators who were physically impacted by the floods and cyclone were up and running relatively quickly – sometimes within just a few days.  One operator for example, Riverlife – which runs kayaking, abseiling and stand up paddle board tours on the Brisbane River had over 1 m of water and mud through their river-side premises during the Brisbane floods.  Within five days they were open again. Other operators took longer – and a couple such as Dunk and Bedarra Islands, which were severely damaged by Cyclone Yasi, have yet to re-open 12 months later. Overall however, the positive outlook and resilience of the industry was incredibly strong – operators started mopping up as soon as the crisis was past and were back to business incredibly quickly.  With a few months at most, and sometimes a couple of weeks, or even days, the vast majority were back to normal business operations and visitors would never have known they had been affected.

The damage caused by the perception that most of the state had been affected was not so easy to combat.  The natural disasters received enormous global media publicity, which was particularly frustrating for destinations that weren’t impacted at all by the natural disasters.  Many of these operators suffered a loss of business just because people thought they were closed.  For this reason, we implemented the ‘Nothing Beats Queensland’ campaign with a focus on a global media blitz to tell the story that were open and ready to welcome visitors.  Many of these stories were still running months later.

Twelve months on, the industry is positive.  Domestic visitors have returned and are having fantastic Queensland holidays and many of our international markets are also beginning to rebound (these have been affected more by global impacts such as the global financial crisis, high Australian dollar and natural disasters in other key markets such as Japan and New Zealand, more so than the ongoing impact of Queensland’s natural disasters).

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