02/01/2005, 00.00
THAILAND - ASIA
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UN World Tourism Organisation in Phuket to discuss industry recovery

Thai Prime Minister calls on Asian leaders to cooperate to prevent other tsunamis.

Phuket (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A quick recovery of tourism industry and greater international cooperation to prevent natural disasters are the main issues on the table at the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (WTO) that opened yesterday on Phuket Island (Thailand), one of areas hardest hit in the December 26 tsunami.

Opening the WTO's first-ever emergency session, its secretary-general Francesco Frangialli said: "It is important to take action aimed at ensuring that tourism flows recover as quickly as possible, in order to alleviate the suffering of the affected populations."

"We must rapidly restore jobs and hope . . . [and reach] a quick return to living conditions and professional activity that are as close to normal as possible constitutes the best form of aid," Mr Frangialli told delegates from over 40 countries.

The secretary-general added that the WTO could help countries reposition their offerings, such as making them less reliable on beach tourism, training staff to take the place of those killed in the disaster and putting out information on the situation in damaged destinations.

On Phuket Island, the tsunami has not only left thousands of people dead and injured, but has also left most survivors unemployed. Currently, the occupancy rate is as low as 10 per cent and so many are in need of a job.

Tourism is vital to most of the countries hardest hit by the disaster, but particularly to Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. The authorities in these countries have complained however that foreign government travel advisories warning holidaymakers against visiting them are unnecessarily hurting their tourism sectors. Numerous tourist destinations remain in fact intact and open to visitors.

On the eve of the meeting, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said his country will go it alone with a tsunami warning system after failing to get backing from its Asian neighbours for its bid to oversee a regional centre.

"Thailand would like to ask all parties to abandon their 'self' and to think what we could do for the sake of the group as a whole," Thaksin told reporters.

The latest tsunami-related death toll for the entire region stood at 298,000. In Thailand 5,393 people are confirmed dead, including 1948 tourists. (LF)

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