LONDON, UK – Today, as the chairman and top executives of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) met with Brazil’s President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and the Governor of the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, Luiz Henrique da Silveira, to discuss WTTC’s 2009 Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Santa Catarina’s capital, Florian√≥polis, they took the opportunity of expressing their deep sorrow at the natural disaster that has unfolded in the state over the past several days.

“We would like to offer our sincere condolences to the families of the more than 80 people who have lost their lives as a result of the recent floods and landslides,” said Geoffrey J. W. Kent, chairman & CEO of Abercrombie & Kent, and chairman of WTTC, “not to mention the 54,000 who have been forced from their homes and the 160,000 or more who are without electricity.

“We are more than ever committed to making a huge success of our Global Travel & Tourism Summit, which will take place from May 15-16, 2009,” Kent added, “and which we believe will help put Santa Catarina and its capital Florian√≥polis firmly on the world tourism map – both from the point of its international tourism potential and its potential for foreign investment.”

In total, over a million people have been affected by the natural disaster – “the worst the state has ever faced,” to quote Sr Silveira. Eight towns have been totally cut off by the flood waters and the rains. The floods have also caused part of a pipeline carrying natural gas from Bolivia to Brazil to be shut, cutting supplies to Santa Catarina and the neighboring state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Not surprisingly, a state of emergency has been declared by President Lula, and he has authorized emergency relief funds of around US$881 million (2 billion reais). But this will fall far short of what is needed to repair the damage and rebuild consumer and business confidence in the future of the region.

“It is extremely important for private sector leaders and ministers of tourism from all four corners of the globe to come to Santa Catarina next May to give their support and guidance to Santa Catarina,” said Jean-Claude Baumgarten, WTTC president & CEO. “Travel & Tourism could be the vital stimulus that the state needs to help kick-start its economy after this terrible tragedy.
“The timing of the summit could not be better” Baumgarten noted, “as it will give us all an opportunity to discuss the current economic crisis, as well as increased incidents of terrorism such as the events unfolding in Mumbai and Bangkok at the moment.

“We will use the summit to identify new ways of working together in public-private partnership so as to ensure the long-term prosperity of travel and tourism for the benefit of all stakeholders – tourists, the tourism industry, destinations, and host communities.”