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24 May, 2004

Asia-Pacific Cities Seek to Forge Tourism Linkages

BUSAN, Korea — Representatives of 39 Asia-Pacific cities met in Korea’s second largest city last week to discuss ways to promote tourism to and amongst their respective cities.

However, they left the Tourism Forum organised by the Asia-Pacific Tourism Promotion Organisation (TPO) with little to show, making the entire event yet another example of how taxpayer dollars are being wasted on duplication of effort and unnecessary competition amongst travel & tourism entities.

The establishment of the TPO was proposed at the Fourth Asia-Pacific city summit in Busan in May 2000 and approved at the fifth summit in Fukuoka in August 2002.

On paper, its objectives were to do joint marketing, develop new tourism products, undertake training programmes, conduct research and statistical analysis and promote networking to exchange information. Although these are largely the same as most other travel industry organizations, it was felt that something more city-focussed was necessary.

The Busan city government offered to host the secretariat and today continues to provide most of the funding for the TPO. Today, the TPO has 46 city members, including Bangkok, and 11 industry members who pay a nominal fee of respectively US$ 1,000 and US$ 500 a year.

For Busan, however, hosting the secretariat is a matter of prestige and enhances its stature at a time of furious competition with other Korean cities for economic growth and development.

The region’s third-largest port after Singapore and Hong Kong, Busan played a key role in the 2002 World Cup and also hosted the 2002 Asian Games. The city has just won a bid to host the 2005 APEC summit.

In September 2003, the TPO held its first general assembly and agreed on a modest initial agenda — holding a TPO travel fair, developing cruise tours between member cities and exchanging visits to help tourism-related officials of the member cities gain a wider knowledge and experience.

The second general assembly is to be held next year in Fukuoka. In preparation for that, it was decided to hold a TPO Forum to discuss other potential projects that could be sent for approval to the general assembly.

However, discussions during this Forum last week laid bare the growing pains being experienced by start-up travel industry organizations and the amount of duplication being inadvertently created as a result of inexperience and competitive pressures.

For example, the meeting spent a fair amount of time discussing the impact of low-cost airlines. After listening to a detailed presentation by Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation managing director Peter Harbison, and further talk in the working group meetings, it was agreed that the TPO could contribute little to this because aviation and airport-related issues were largely out of the hands of city authorities.

However, other means of transportation, such as the growing number of mass transit systems in the Asia-Pacific cities and the impact they are having on city tourism, did not get even a few seconds worth of mention even though they had been specifically cited by UN ESCAP Executive Secretary Kim Hak Su as a major beneficiary for city tourism.

In an opening address delivered on his behalf, Mr. Hak Su cited the example of Bangkok where ESCAP is based and where tourism has received a shot in the arm as a result of the Skytrain and the upcoming subway.

The Forum members also talked about setting up a Tourism Academy. Again, the workshop discussions noted that there were already a number of regional training institutions and universities offering travel & tourism courses, leaving open the question of what exactly yet another tourism academy would bring to the table.

As for travel fairs, again, there are dozens of travel fairs throughout the region and globally. Nevertheless, the final report of the TPO Forum agreed that at the next TPO general assembly in Fukuoka, some details would be proposed on organising one.

One reason for this duplication was that the people who attended this Forum were largely city bureaucrats or appointed councillors with little experience in travel & tourism, and limited knowledge of the huge amount of work already being done through many other global travel forums.

Rather than raise this issue publicly during the Forum, in order not to embarrass the hosts, ESCAP’s Tourism Unit chief Ryuji Yamakawa said he would be privately talking to the TPO to boost co-operation with ESCAP in other areas where it could be much more productive and beneficial.

For example he noted that nearly all the TPO members were on the route-net of the Asian Highway, the groundbreaking project formally signed at the recent ESCAP 60th commission session in Shanghai, which opened up clear opportunities for the two organisations to promote inter-city road travel.

Moreover, ESCAP has another grouping called APETIT, a network of 168 regional travel & tourism educational institutions which could be used to organise specific courses and training programmes related to city tourism.

The Forum also agreed to “study the feasibility” of other ventures like a TPO song, a magazine (in addition to the existing website) and a TPO visitors card, with linkages to a credit card.

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