ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 13, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 46
Financial Times  

Climate change main issue taken up by PATA members

By Tharindri Rupesinghe

Melting ice-caps and rising sea-levels were the issues that mostly occupied the minds of the PATA board of directors at the recently held 57th AGM and Board Meeting in Colombo, according to Peter de Jong, President and CEO of PATA. “The single most pressing issue that was brought up was climate change,” he said.

PATA is actively trying to involve the global business community in the sustainable tourism effort through the PATA CEO challenge 2008, which is essentially a gathering of leaders from the various facets of the travel trade -including hotels, airlines and tour operators -looking for practical solutions to instil in businesses.

“We’re assuming our responsibility for climate change,” he said, adding that although it is an uphill struggle, the task of converting corporatists to green-thinking was getting “increasingly easy”. Apparently, the reason behind this is the consumer himself. In Europe for instance, the airlines are making an effort to cut down on carbon emissions and run more fuel-efficient flights. The European tourists coming to Sri Lanka might in turn be particular about the tour operators they use and the eco-friendliness of their destinations. The cycle would result in more corporate agents joining in to keep up. “If you want to play in our sand box, you have to get with the programme,” said de Jong.

To the controversial topic of travel advisories too the board was given some discussion time, says De Jong. “Our knowledge of Europe is far greater than the other way around.” He explained that to most Western tourists, one area of Asia is the same as the others and that there is a general ignorance of the geography and topography of the region. If one part of a country is in some strife, the western opinion will be that the whole country is a war-zone. “We have a constant job of educating our markets,” de Jong said, adding that whenever possible PATA uses its “influence” to waive or soften the advisories. “We talk to a lot of ambassadors,” he elaborated, going on to say that as an uninvolved body, it would have more of a say than maybe local tourism authorities or governments.

Also, he believes that the board members from the PATA delegations coming to Sri Lanka is in itself the best advertisement.

“However we can’t mediate for the government,” he said, “They have their own responsibility of keeping the people safe”.

On the Pacific Asian perspective of Sri Lanka, de Jong is very positive, “Your greatest asset is your people,” he says pointing out the intelligence, service-orientation and general warmth of Sri Lankans to be the aspects that the sector has to capitalise on further.

On a more urgent note, the CEO warned tourism authorities to be weary of constantly referring to Sri Lanka as a fully safe destination for tourists, since so far no tourist has been targeted. “It is probably wise not to claim so much on what you have no control over,” he advised.


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