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Travel Emergency Response Network Unveiled

United Nations World Tourism Organization learns lessons from worldwide disasters

Y. Sulaiman, eTN  May 10, 2010

Malaysia's ministry of tourism hosted the first of the United Nations World Tourism Organization's (UNWTO) two-day worldwide workshops in its efforts to formulate a template on Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) during "challenging circumstances" for the travel and tourism industry.

UNWTO has classified three types of crises: natural (earthquakes, tsunami), health (health pandemic), and human (mass poisoning), which are likely to affect the industry.

Admitting it would be "impossible" to forecast all crisis situations to all relevant audiences, UNWTO hopes "effective use" of its resources by industry organizations will find the many options available "most valuable" before and during a crisis.

Unveiling its TERN (Travel Emergency Response Network) alerting system as its platform of "network of networks" to reach leading tourism associations around the world, UNWTO hopes to make travel and destinations safer for the travel and tourism industry.

"Working within UNWTO's one-stop emergency platform portal ( industry partners and travelers can share clear, concise, real time information and specific messages to mitigate the impacts of natural, health, and man-made disasters," explained Dick Glaesser, UNWTO chief of risks and crisis management.

Inviting more "relevant, timely, and credible" information for the industry, Glaesser said UNWTO's special crisis communications website ( is its new site created as a one-stop worldwide source for crisis information.

According to Geoffrey Lipman, special advisor to UNWTO, whatabouttravel and are industry platforms designed to provide instant information to countries and to the private sector in the event of a mega-crisis.

Whatabouttravel and are public websites serving as valuable information resources for tourists before a trip, or during a crisis event.

"Every crisis is different," said Lipman.

UNWTO says its Crisis Communications Toolbox offers a wide range of practical communications tools, including checklists, guidelines, and templates for travel organizations to use in crisis situations.

"A website is still the primary source of information during a crisis," commented Lipman.

Using the current HINI pandemic as a reference, and the recent travel chaos as a result of the Icelandic volcanic ash fallout as examples, forum members reviewed how new technology can be used as a one of the "toolbox components" to reach the industry.

Social networking sites such as TWITTER and FACEBOOK allow users to interact over the Internet. Emails and instant messaging at the same time allow millions to access and use the services on smartphones.

Today, thousands of travelers and local citizens use wireless technology to communicate, especially while traveling.

They are constantly looking at their phones to surf the Internet, access online applications, and send/receive messages.

This form of communications now spans most age groups. They allow for one-to-one, and one-to-many communications.

Responsible use of this technology can have a dramatic and positive impact on mitigating the effects of a crisis, minimizing injury and loss of lives.

The workshop also examined how best practices during "crisis communications" can help negate the negative impact of travel advisories in the media.

Being overly defensive only perpetuates media coverage of the advisory, consequently impacting the industry and the economy. "The key is a response that is professional and conveys a sense of calm and control to the media."

Lipman said: "The reality is, the travel and tourism industry is the world's largest industry. The benefits it brings to people worldwide are substantial and growing.

"The industry impacts the economy, social and culture of a community, and the country.

"Safer travel and recovery will counter negative events as a result of both real and perceived crises."

United Nations World Tourism Organization learns lessons from worldwide disasters
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