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12 Sep, 2005

City-Tourism Group Seeks More School-trips

FUKUOKA — A new travel organisation devoted to linking the tourism potential of Asia-Pacific cities is to focus on promoting overseas trips by the millions of schoolchildren in its member cities.

The Tourism Promotion Organization for Asia-Pacific Cities (known simply as TPO), approved the proposal at its 2nd General Assembly here last week. Other plans approved include the creation of a discount card scheme and the development of a travel agency network among member cities.

Overseas trips to gain better insights into history, culture and heritage are part of the school curriculum in Japan and Korea where governments provide financial support to help keep the prices low and ensure that they are accessible for students of families from all income groups.

The two countries, which are the major financial and administrative supporters of the TPO, now want to encourage the expansion of this scheme throughout the Asia-Pacific.

Philosophically, the TPO resolution says that encouraging schoolchildren to travel will create a whole new generation of future travellers as well as leaders with a much wider and enlightened perspective of the world around them.

From a business standpoint, it will help generate additional revenue streams for inbound and outbound tour operators, plus airlines, two- and three-star hotels, museums, arts and culture galleries, and many more travel & tourism products.

For the travel industry, it will create a new niche-market category of travel in an age group even lower than that of pre-university young people who take advantage of a gap-year to gain some travel experience.

Cities are seen as being natural starting points for this project. They are main economic hubs of all countries, and possess rich cultural and heritage sites with great stories to tell.

Under the TPO project, Asia-Pacific schools will have to apply to become part of an exchange programme. The TPO will coordinate the exchange, send the participating schools information on the destination city and also help prepare itineraries to ensure a proper educational experience.

Said Hiroaki Kadoguchi, General Manager, International Travel Division, Kyushu of JTB Ltd, Japan’s largest tour operator, “Once students visit a country, that country acquires a special place in their minds throughout their lives.”

Mr Kadoguchi said there was immense potential – JTB one year organised 14 Boeing 747 charters of students to New Zealand – but that the logistical and administrative requirements should not be underestimated.

While safety is a top concern, organisers also have to consider other details like visa arrangements, cultural differences and food.

He said some schools like to include cultural and dance performances, which entail taking along musical instruments and costumes.

Mr Kadoguchi said it was amazing what travelling at a young age could do. After finishing university, Japanese young people today are paying upto 250,000 yen to go and help build a road in India or upto 300,000 yen to join poverty-alleviation projects in Nepal.

If this new scheme is to succeed, tourism bureaux city governments would have to appoint liaison officers to act as a contact point to coordinate the trips and take care of their individual needs.

Mr Manuel Hernandez, a private consultant who has just retired as director of the Office of Economic development, Honolulu, said it was important to ensure that the trips do not become an elitist activity affordable only by the children of the rich.

He agreed with a suggestion that ways should be found to ensure that children of low-income families also have access to them, such as through scholarships.

Cities that wish to join the project will have undertake significant upgrading of their tourist sites that they wish to include in the itineraries, beyond the standards acceptable for local schoolchildren.

It will also require new forms of training and publication of explanatory literature in several different languages in a style understandable by children.

There is considerable potential for Thailand to join this project. In 2004, Thailand was visited by 546,129 young people under 15. Although that comprised a fractional 4.7% of total visitors to Thailand in 2004, it was a growth of 22.5% over 2003.

Children in this age group were up across the board, including Japan (25,209, +21.60%) and Korea (64,519, +35.17).

An outcome of the resolutions passed after Fourth Asia-Pacific City summit in May 2000, TPO was founded in August 2002 with 26 city members, mainly in Korea, Japan and China, and has now grown to 51 city members and 28 industry members as of this month.

The secretariat is located in Busan, South Korea, whose city government has provided the bulk of the funds to arrange the many preparatory meetings held since its founding. Additional support has come from the Fukuoka City government.

Although the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is a member of the TPO and was represented at the 1 st General Assembly in Busan last year, there was no Thai representation at the 2 nd General Assembly this year.

Other ASEAN cities represented this year included Jakarta, Ipoh, Georgetown, Kota Kinabalu, Melaka and Ho Chi Minh city. They also participated in a travel fair organised alongside.

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