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6 May, 2008

Aussies To Clear Skilled Migration Visa Backlog

The Australian tourism industry is to be a primary beneficiary of an effort to clear a backlog of applications for temporary skilled migration visas by June 2008.

In this dispatch: With the Australian Tourism Exchange due to be held in Perth during June 14-20, Travel Impact Newswire continues a regular new series of special reports on Australia. They will seek to provide a wider perspective on social, cultural, environmental developments in that multi-cultural country, especially those that impact on travel & tourism.













The Australian tourism industry is to be a primary beneficiary of an effort to clear a backlog of applications for temporary skilled migration visas by June 2008. The move is designed to ease the country’s labour market pressures and skills shortages, specifically in the accommodation, catering and retail sectors, underwrite the competitiveness of Australian business in a global economy and cope with the future pressures of an ageing society.

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans announced early last week that he has directed the department to allocate extra resources and work overtime to clear the backlog the so-called “457 visa” applications by June 30 as an immediate measure. Thereafter, specialised teams or ‘Centres of Excellence’ will be set up in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to facilitate and process the applications from July onwards. The move mainly will help the hospitality sector complete the legalities of hiring chefs and cooks, the main area of demand.

The primary visa in this area allows businesses to recruit staff from overseas for periods between three months and four years. Businesses may also sponsor secondary persons to accompany overseas staff to Australia. In tourism, the most significant growth in manpower requirement is projected for accommodation, restaurants and cafes, education and retail trade sectors. Other industry sectors facing manpower shortages are infrastructure and mining.

According to a report issued by the minister’s office, as at 13 February 2008 there were 125,390 Subclass 457 visa holders in Australia, comprising 67,410 primary visa holders (nominated skilled workers) and 57,980 secondary visa holders (family members). The report said that as at 1 April 2008, 39,940 temporary skilled visas have been granted in 2007-08, which on current projections is 17% higher than the previous year when 46,680 such visas were granted.

The policy for expediting the visa processing period emerged in the wake of the National Tourism Industry Strategy Research Report which estimated 536,600 jobs in the Australian tourism industry in 2003-04. It was considered by an ad hoc body known as the External Reference Group (ERG), set up by the minister to recommend policy measures to meet Australia’s labour market needs, especially in view of competition it is facing from other labour-hungry countries like Canada and New Zealand.

According to a report issued by the ERG, employment growth in accommodation and cafes and restaurants to 2012-13 is expected to average 1.7% per year, compared to 1.5% for all industries. The report cited industry studies suggesting an additional tourism sector labour demand of 130,000 persons by 2013-14. Around 36.5% of tourism employment is in regional and rural Australia, and approximately 48,000 additional workers will be required by the industry in regional and rural Australia by 2013-14.

The tourism workforce is young relative to other industry sectors, the report said. More than 35% of the tourism workforce was aged between 15-24, double the all-industry average percentage. Overall the tourism industry accounted for 10-11% of total national employment in the 15-24 year age group, double its overall share of employment of 5.6%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) March Quarter 2005.

“The pool of young workers which the tourism industry can draw from in the future is shrinking in relative terms as a result of the ageing of the Australian population,” the report said. “Consequently, the industry will need to refocus its recruitment policies towards different domestic demographic groups, including older people.”

It said casual and part-time employment has increased steadily between 1997-98 and 2003-04. Around 37% of the tourism workforce was employed on a part-time or casual basis, well above the all-industry average of 29%. Part-time and casual employment is generally high in the hotel, restaurant and catering sectors of the industry.

High staff turnover is also a feature. For example, the report said, just 68% of employees in accommodation, cafes and restaurants had worked in the same job for more than one year in February 2004, below the all-industry average of 80%. “However, it should be noted that in the current (2008) tight labour market, there are reports indicating that full-time employment is increasing to meet the labour demand and retain existing employees,” the report said.

Based on projected population growth and 2004-05 workforce participation rates, it was anticipated that there would be a shortfall of 90,300 employees by 2013-14, because of the relatively lower population and employment growth projected for younger age groups from which the tourism industry draws heavily as a source of employment. The Queensland Tourism Industry Council stated that “the available labour pool is shrinking and insufficient to accommodate current demand, let alone any future growth”.

Another key recommendation by the ERG is to establish an accreditation system whereby ‘low risk’ employers with a good track record of compliance with immigration and industrial relations laws can have “457 visa” applications fast-tracked by the department. The ERG report also stressed the importance of training to alleviate the skills shortages in the medium to long term, while permanent migration is crucial for meeting long term labour market demands.



04 May 2008 — In the upcoming budget, the Rudd Government will commit one billion dollars to fund disability services and increase support for carers. This includes an extra $100 million in capital funding, to build more supported accommodation for people with a disability — up to 35 new facilities accommodating up to six people each. These new supported accommodation places will be available to people with a disability who may not currently have appropriate accommodation.

They will also be available for people with a disability whose parents are ageing and can no longer care for them at home. These additional facilities to assist with the transition of people with a disability from home to other accommodation arrangements will allow older carers to better plan the future of their children. They will give older carers greater peace of mind and the reassurance of knowing that alternative arrangements are more available when they are no longer able to provide full-time care.

This new $100 million in capital funding will be provided immediately to State and Territory Governments. This capital funding will be allocated on a per capita basis and State and Territory Governments will not be required to provide matching funding.

The new accommodation facilities will be supported on an ongoing basis by the transfer of $900 million into the Commonwealth, State and Territory Disability Agreement (CSTDA) currently being renegotiated. These funds have been offered on a matched funding basis delivering up to $1.8 billion for disability services including more respite services and ongoing funding for the new facilities.

The previous Government was planning to deliver this $900 million in funding independently of the States and Territories, duplicating administrative costs and missing the opportunity to attract matching funding.

The Australian Government has also committed to the establishment of a National Disability Strategy to help improve long term support for people with disability and those who care for them. The Rudd Labor Government’s first budget is one step in the Government’s long term commitment to improving the lives of people with disability, and their families.

The announcement was made after the entry into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention was ratified by 20 UN members on 3 April 2008, and came into force 30 days after that date. It is designed to ensure that universal human rights and fundamental freedoms are available to the world’s estimated 650 million people with disability.

The Convention removes barriers faced by people with disability and enhances opportunities to participate in social and political decision making processes. It also recognises their rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement and equal recognition before the law.

Around two-thirds of UN Member States do not have any legal protection for people with disabilities. The Convention sets out existing human rights as they apply specifically to people with disabilities. These include rights to non-discrimination in all areas of life, such as employment, education, health services, transportation and access to justice.

Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes said: “Australia has signed the Convention, but not yet ratified it. I encourage prompt ratification by the Australian Government, so that we can participate in the election of the treaty body, to take place in the next few months.”

Ratification by Australia requires a National Interest Assessment to go before the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. The assessment requires input from State and Territory Governments, and Commissioner Innes encouraged all of them to meet these obligations promptly.

The text of the Convention, and related papers, may be viewed on the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission website at: www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/convention.htm



4 May 2008 — The Trade Minister, Simon Crean, has welcomed the strong commitment expressed by ministers to conclude the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) negotiations at their next meeting in August in Singapore.

The ASEAN Economic Ministers – Closer Economic Relations (AEM-CER) consultations were held in Bali, Indonesia, on 3 May. At the meeting, ministers recognised the progress made in recent negotiating rounds with only a handful of issues now requiring resolution.

“Encouragingly, ministers did not identify any issue as being beyond resolution”, Mr Crean said. “It is important that negotiations deliver commercially meaningful improvements in market access for goods, services and investment.”

Mr Crean said that it was clear that tough negotiations still lie ahead. “The negotiations are challenging. We are dealing with a group of diverse countries ranging in different levels of development but importantly we all agree on the importance of successfully concluding the FTA negotiation in August. Considerable work remains. But ministers have given a clear signal to officials that the political will is there to try and achieve a substantial outcome this year.”

Australian businesses have identified barriers to ASEAN markets, especially in manufactured goods, agriculture and services. Australia is seeking to reduce barriers, including on services, in the negotiations.



2 May 2008 — The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, has welcomed a NSW Supreme Court decision to approve a compensation settlement for an Australian citizen who was unlawfully detained by the department more than four years ago. The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons but is known as Mr T, was detained on three separate occasions by the department as a suspected unlawful non-citizen between 1999 and 2003. He was later found to be an Australian citizen.

Mr T was compensated for mental and physiological suffering during the eight-and-a-half months he spent in detention. “This was obviously a very traumatic experience for Mr T and we hope this settlement will now enable him to move forward with his life,” Senator Evans said.

“The department publicly apologised to Mr T in March 2006 when the circumstances of his detention came to light. “At the agreement of both parties, the details of the settlement will remain confidential.” Mr T was one of the 247 cases referred by the department in 2005 and 2006 for investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

“It is a priority of the Rudd Government to resolve these long-standing and regrettable immigration legacies of the former Howard government,” Senator Evans said.

Some of the priority cases resolved to date include a $2.6 million compensation settlement for Cornelia Rau and the granting of a permanent visa to Tony Tran, who was wrongfully detained for five years and assaulted whilst in detention.

The department has since established and implemented a number of reforms including a 24–hour, seven–day–a–week immigration status checking service for police, a case management framework to deal with Australia’s most vulnerable immigration clients and detention review managers, who regularly monitor whether detention is appropriate and if there is still a reasonable suspicion someone is unlawfully in Australia. “We need to continue to improve our processes to rebuild public confidence in the system,” Senator Evans said.



1 May 2008 — Up to 1000 people are expected to come together at Essendon Football Club’s Walk in Harmony event on May 4 for cultural celebrations and sporting activities promoting acceptance, diversity and inclusion. The Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, Laurie Ferguson, said today the event would culminate in a symbolic walk from Flemington Community Centre to Melbourne’s Telstra Dome.

“Walk in Harmony is part of Essendon Football Club’s Kicking Goals for Harmony project to build links between the wider community and new community groups,” Mr Ferguson said. “Kicking Goals for Harmony engages young people from diverse backgrounds in Australian rules football to create a sense of belonging and community.”

Mr Ferguson said local club football competitions could enable players’ families and friends to get involved as volunteers or supporters. “This can help them feel connected with a community,” Mr Ferguson said.

The parliamentary secretary said Kicking Goals for Harmony had received $35 000 in Australian Government funding for activities also including internet pages and an 18-week program in schools. “The schools’ program will reach more than 3000 students with activities building self-esteem and leadership skills,” Mr Ferguson said.



1 May 2008 — Trans-Tasman commercial links will be strengthened and new connections forged in the 25th anniversary year of the first trade agreement of its kind – the Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CERTA) – when Australian businesses showcase their talent and innovation in Auckland (27 April to 3 May) G’Day NZ: Australia Week 2008.

Building on the enormous success of G’Day NZ: Australia Week programs held in Auckland last year, this year G’Day NZ will feature a new range of events to promote all things Australian including art, entertainment, film, food and wine, sport and tourism in Australia’s closest trade destination.

Australian Consul General and Senior Trade Commissioner to New Zealand, Michael Crawford said, “Twenty five years after CERTA, Australia and New Zealand are even more economically dependent on each other.”

“In 1982 Australian exports to New Zealand were $1.6 billion but now our exports are growing at over nine per cent per year and worth over $12.7 billion, making Australia New Zealand’s largest source of imports. In 2007, New Zealand was Australia’s fifth largest trading partner, with two-way trade of goods and services worth more than $21 billion, and Australia is also New Zealand’s largest export destination, holding over 20 pert cent of the market share,” he said. New Zealand is also a major investor in Australia ranking sixth in Foreign Investment and eighth in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

According to Mr Crawford, the CER has given Australian small businesses a chance to get their export training in New Zealand before taking on other international markets. “New Zealand is a natural first market and a strong market for Australian businesses of all sizes, from major blue-chip companies to SMEs; but even more so for first time exporters from rural and regional Australia.

“The CER has allowed many local businesses to go global for the first time. This is very important for employment prospects and wages in regional Australia,” Mr Crawford said. According to a recent survey of Australian exporters by the Australian Trade Commission, over 17,800 Australian businesses now export goods to New Zealand alone.

The Australian Trade Commission’s Chief Economist, Tim Harcourt said, “New Zealand is the number one export destination for Australian SMEs with over 35 per cent of all SME exporters selling across the ditch. The CER has facilitated as much collaboration as competition between Australia and New Zealand.

“In fact, the CER has fostered an ‘ANZAC partnership’ with businesses from both sides coming together to use it as a springboard into Asia and the rest of the world., in a number of areas, particularly in research and development.”

One example is the Australian-New Zealand Biotech Partnership Fund, whereby New Zealand companies are encouraged by grant funding to partner with Australian firms to commercialise high-value research to promote Australia and New Zealand together as the world’s fifth largest biotech hub. For further information on events being held during Australia Week please visit www.australiaweek.co.nz



2 May 2008 — Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be offered the chance to tap into China’s booming economy thanks to a joint initiative between Telstra and Austrade’s Business Club Australia during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The initiative, known as Win business gold in China, will offer practical help to Telstra Business customers who have already established a presence or relationship with China.

Under the program, small businesses will be selected to travel to China to build their export potential through networking events and educational seminars with Austrade’s China market experts. Co-inciding with the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, small business owners will gain insights into the prospects and pitfalls of doing business in China while experiencing the sporting event of a lifetime.

A panel consisting of senior Telstra Business and Austrade representatives will choose 12 businesses to participate in the program with entries to close on 25 May, 2008. Telstra Business Group Managing Director, Deena Shiff, said facilitating business opportunities for Australian SMEs, including international trade, ranked high on the priorities of Telstra. “China is an emerging market with massive potential for Australian SME exporters and Telstra would like to help them reach this exciting new market,” Ms Shiff said. “Telstra understands that while many small and medium businesses see great opportunities in China they cannot successfully operate in this market without the help of expert information and business contacts.”

Business Club Australia is the Australian Government’s official international business program for the Games and has been endorsed by the Australian Olympic Committee. “Business Club Australia will provide opportunities for Australian companies to make business contacts at a time when people have gathered to share the excitement and global attention generated around the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games,” Austrade CEO Peter O’Byrne said.

“More than 4,200 Australian businesses now export goods to China and there are over 3,000 Australian businesses with a presence there. China is now in the top four – after New Zealand, USA and the UK – as a destination for exporting SMEs. The China market expertise provided through Austrade’s China network and Business Club Australia provides a platform for SMEs to build their presence in this key market,” Mr O’Byrne said.

In 2007, China became Australia’s largest merchandise trading partner, with two way trade in goods reaching $52.7 billion. China’s colossal economic expansion, with GDP growth averaging 9.5 per cent over the past 20 years and rising Chinese incomes, has created a huge potential market for Australian SMEs.

The Win business gold in China program will offer SMEs a unique business experience, and connect them to emerging opportunities through Austrade’s China network of 15 offices and 90 staff across China and Hong Kong.

A new website – www.telstra.com.au/business/chinagold – was launched where Australian SMEs can apply to be selected to travel to Beijing. Visit www.businessclubaustralia.gov.au for more information about the Business Club Australia program.



5 May 2008 – The Privacy Commissioners of Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria today launched an international privacy competition and have encouraged secondary school students to enter. Prizes include a video camera and gift vouchers to the value of approximately $3,000.

“Our Offices have chosen to target secondary school students as this group is one of the main users of social networking sites and they appear to give away a significant amount of personal information via this medium,” Ms Karen Curtis, the Australian Privacy Commissioner, said on behalf of the Commissioners.

“We are keen to understand whether or not privacy is something students consider in their daily activities, and to encourage them to start thinking about the information that they disclose and the impact that this may have on their life.”

The international competition is hosted by the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities (APPA) as part of Privacy Awareness Week, 24-30 August 2008. Privacy Awareness Week is an annual promotion to raise awareness of the importance of protecting privacy. The theme for 2008 is “privacy is your business”.

As part of the competition, students are invited to create a video about any aspect of privacy, such as their opinion of its relevance in today’s society, how it does or doesn’t affect them in their daily life, or perhaps the influence that the internet has had on privacy.

The competition closes on 25 July 2008 and entries will be judged by the APPA Commissioners. The winners will be announced during Privacy Awareness Week. Further details: www.privacyawarenessweek.org



1 May 2008 — The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, welcomes the commitment from consumer representatives to establish a peak telecommunications body representing the diversity of consumer interests. Senator Conroy and telecommunications consumer stakeholders met today to discuss ways to make consumer representation in telecommunications policy making more effective.

“Telecommunications consumers face an environment of continual technological change, globalisation, evolving market structures and new business models,” Senator Conroy said. “We need well-informed consumers to make well-informed product and service choices and I heard a lot of very interesting views today from a range of stakeholders from consumer representatives, industry and other government bodies.

“Addressing consumer issues is a challenge but the first step to tackle it will be to improve current consumer representation strategies to give consumers a stronger unified voice. Working together to empower consumer representation and to improve the interface between consumer groups, industry, and strengthen the self-regulatory regime will result in better outcomes and better informed consumers. Better informed consumers will result in better outcomes for industry.”



1 May 2008 — Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, today announced more than $600,000 in grants for vital projects across the country to protect the environment. Mr Garrett said the funding for volunteer groups under the Grants for Voluntary Environmental and Heritage Organisations program, recognised the important and valuable work many groups play across the country in protecting our land, unique species and historic places.

“So many people devote so much of their own time to protecting and improving our environment and heritage and I am very pleased to support the tremendous contribution these organisations make on behalf of us all.

“Through this round of grants funding, 118 environment and 34 heritage organisations will receive more than $600,000 to assist their efforts to conserve and protect Australia’s natural environment and historic heritage. “The focus of this program is on easing the burden of day-to-day running expenses by making funds available for administration costs.”

The groups receiving funding are diverse, for example, in an old WWII hanger at Werribee, Victoria, the last surviving RAAF Liberator is being restored by The B24 Liberator Memorial Restoration Fund Inc. The fund was founded by RAAF B24 pilot Bob Butler, and wireless/radar operator and waist gunner Eric Clark, both retired.

“Conservation councils, local organisations and national conservation organisations, largely through the dedication of many volunteers, have achieved great outcomes for all Australians in preserving many of our natural icons,” Mr Garrett said.

“Take the work of Birds Australia. They use knowledge gained from professional and amateur ornithologists from all over Australia for biodiversity conservation. The organisation has worked on vast conservation projects including the Gluepot and Newhaven Reserves for the conservation of nationally threatened bird species. There is strong community support with 7545 members.”


TRAVEL IMPACT NEWSWIRE — Edition 36 — (2008) — Monday, 05 May 2008

In this dispatch:





By Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor, Travel Impact Newswire, and Don Ross, Editor, Travel Trade Report.

[Imtiaz Muqbil and Don Ross were conferred the PATA journalism awards respectively in 2005 and 2003. They have covered PATA and the Asia-Pacific travel & tourism industry since the 1970s.]

Although the first PATA CEO Challenge organised in Bangkok between April 29-30 led to an outpouring of ideas and initiatives on the issue of climate change, it failed to deliver on many of its other promised goals. Behind the lofty words at the closing media conference — which ended with Thailand’s longest serving foreign correspondent point-blank telling PATA President and CEO Peter de Jong that he “was too much of a PR guy” — the CEO Challenge recorded the lowest turnout of paying delegates in the recent history of PATA annual conferences.

It emerged as a rich-man’s club that was shunned by most PATA members and board members, attracted virtually zero attendance from Asia’s smaller countries and companies and reflected few of the wider concerns facing Asia as it seeks to balance the concurrent demands of economic growth vs environmental protection, of which travel & tourism is only a part. Worse, while the management will seek to hype the upside, it knows it will not be held accountable for the downsides which would have cost PATA dearly had the Thai taxpayer not helped pick up a good chunk of the tab.

At the media briefing, the CEO Challenge predictably was hyped as a “landmark event” and “the beginning of something very significant.” The low turnout was classified as reflective of a “quality over quantity” approach. Over two days, a “peer group” of industry executives from heavyweight companies like Marriott, Cathay Pacific, Expedia, Banyan Tree, etc., shared “practical initiatives and ideas” to address this looming global problem.

For PATA, said Mr. de Jong, the real challenge has now begun as it will seek to synthesize the “information overload” and magnanimously pass it down through its various chapters to those members who could not spare the time or money to attend. Based on survey responses that are claimed to have given it a 97% “good to excellent” rating, the new-format concept has been declared a “success” and will be repeated, with further details to be discussed later about when, where, how and on what topic to organise future conferences.

A closer look indicates that the event fell far short of delivering on its marketing hype. According to the initial sales pitch, this was to be “first opportunity for the entire travel and tourism industry in Asia Pacific, across the private and public sectors, from NTOs to airlines, hotels to tour operators, to agree on practical solutions to confront climate change”. Internally, it also was intended to revive and reinvent the long-standing annual conference after a two-year hiatus, generate income for PATA and attract new members. But another critical purpose is not being publicly highlighted — to pave the way for Mr. de Jong to leave PATA on a “high note” at the end of 2009 when his contract ends.


The conference was reportedly attended by 236 delegates, or 350 if padded out with the inclusion of media and accompanying persons. But of the 236 names on the delegate list, 62 are Thailand-based and include six PATA staff and one media consultant, 14 TAT and six Thai Airways staff. Hardly any airlines and no NTOs signed up from a number of countries, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia. The China National Tourism Administration sent three delegates. The Indian tourism ministry sent two. Not a single Asian travel industry association was present. After Thailand, Australia comprised the largest contingent with 26, Singapore 20, U.S. and Hong Kong 13 each, Malaysia 10 and UK and Canada, 9 each. South Pacific islands were well represented.

After excluding the speakers, moderators and sponsors, the actual list of paying participants was calculated at roughly 140, many of whom were roped in through some last minute arm-twisting and price-cutting. This was a pitiful result, given the huge marketing pitch through both trade and consumer channels, including TV air-time on CNN, seen by thousands of travel & tourism executives in the Asia-Pacific.

Although designed to attract CEOs, many of the CEOs listed are from the sponsoring companies. The keynote speaker, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Dr Rajendra Pachauri, who was making an unpaid appearance, cancelled at the last minute. Others like Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon and Banyan Tree CEO Ho Kwon Ping also pulled out, sending subordinates instead. Joseph A. McInerney, President and CEO, American Hotel and Lodging Association, listed on the PATA website as praising the Challenge, did not show up. Thai Tourism Ministry Permanent Secretary Ms Sasithara Pichaichannarong was listed to speak on the original programme but did not make it on the final one.

PATA members themselves were in short supply. Only about 20 of the 80 PATA board members turned up, which was not surprising; they had been told right at the outset that the event primarily was designed for non-members in an effort to convert them into members.

The media was not allowed into the main workshops, except for the official media. Although only the opening ceremony and session were open, it was later discovered that TravelMole had a live weblink feed from the sessions which could be watched on the Internet.


Although many “practical solutions” emerged, the missing link was the question, “solutions to what?”

Dr Pachauri’s presentation, pre-recorded on a DVD, turned out to be an edited patchwork of the scientific conclusions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, along with a number of implications for travel & tourism, such as the impact on coastlines, snow and ski resorts. His view was that it was important for the region to be now seen as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Presentations by the two consultants, Anna Pollock and Rohit Talwar, contained a global perspective but offered no revolutionary revelations. The first session involved a line-up of six-minute presentations by 11 executive panellists all of whom presented their corporate solutions to climate change. But as noted earlier by marketing consultant Mr. Bert van Walbeek, much of the information can be downloaded from their respective corporate websites. Although Bangkok is home to some of the most respected foreign correspondents in Asia, the media personality chosen to moderate that panel was Kristie Lou Stout, a Hong Kong-based CNN anchor whose presence appeared to captivate delegates far more than the depth of her questions.

One delegate with links to the aviation industry who attended the workshops described the event as a boilerplate. He said most of the presentations were largely self-promotional PR, with many of the ideas being rather “simplistic and idealistic.” Attendance at the workshops and breakouts dwindled as the conference wore on. As he himself had not paid for it, he described it as a good networking opportunity. “If I was the CEO of my own company, I might have a different opinion,” he said.

Another delegate, Mr. John Felix, Senior VP of Emirates Holidays, called it a good event from which he came away “inspired and educated…..Inspired by the amount of initiatives being implemented by so many industry organisations (small & large) and individuals. Educated by increasing my own depth of knowledge on a subject that many of us know very little about. I can now bring this knowledge into my company.”

From a broader perspective, however, the event failed to place the “solutions” within the context of the environmental crisis facing the Asia-Pacific. Asia is today desperately in search of that balance between its economic growth/job-creation objectives and managing/preserving its finite natural resources. Rapid growth in recent decades, to which travel & tourism has contributed heavily, has aggravated deforestation, air and water pollution, urban sprawls, uncontrolled development of coastlines and encroachment in national parks.

At the same time, a number of home-grown, “alternative” solutions have emerged, only two of which were briefly mentioned in the opening sessions: the example of Bhutan and its former policy to limit tourist arrivals, and the “sufficiency economy” theory of Thailand’s King Bhumibhol. Other projects — such as the Heart of Borneo project launched jointly by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and China’s efforts to create a “Green” Olympics — were missing on the programme. Indeed, the only Asian face on the 11 member panel at the opening session was that of Mr. Renton de Alwis of the Sri Lankan tourism board.

At the media conference, Mr. de Jong was asked by TTR Editor Don Ross about the lack of an Asian presence. His reply: “The awareness of the importance of the climate change issue for industry, it’s fair to say, is perhaps a bit further advanced in the European and American markets and in the Australian and New Zealand markets. There is more pressure there from the consumer on this issue. There is more research and intelligence than currently exists in Asia. Which is one of the reasons why we wanted this to come to Asia to make sure that whatever best practises or learning curve that is there, are shared with or made available to Asia Pacific region as a whole.

“So you are right to suggest that in terms of member states, there were not perhaps as we might not have been as we liked. There will be more (in future) as the learning curve has been fast. But I remind all of us that the companies which were in the sessions all have Asia-Pacific responsibilities. So whether the nationality of the CEOs or their ethnicity may be wanting, it’s important that it should represent (like) Accor Asia-Pacific, that you are a regionally important player, and an operator in the Asia-Pacific. Or if you are Banyan Tree, no matter who represents you, you really are an Asian-based or Asian-centric company. So (there was) quite a bit of Asian participation regardless of who has put a face on that.”

In fact, Mr. Ross was not seeking an Asian face per se, but an Asian perspective. The only time this critical issue came up was when Michael Elliott, editor of TIME International, asked Anna Pollock what right the developed world had to tell the people of the developing world that they could not enjoy the same kind of economic growth and the same lifestyles as the developed countries, a lifestyle founded on environmental destruction and profligate use of cheap natural resources, mostly from the developing world.

Mr. Elliott’s question, by implication, went to the heart of the issues sweeping Asia today — why should Asia bear the cost, and pay the price, of global warming, a problem caused overwhelmingly by the GHG emissions of the developed countries. As the problems have emanated in the West, there is intense debate about whether the solutions should also come from the West, as Mr. de Jong seems to believe.

Had PATA sent a representative to the UNFCCC climate change conference in Bali last December and seen the intense stand-off on this central issue between the developed and developing countries, it would have known that. Had Dr Pachauri turned up, that question could have been posed to him. A debate may have allowed non-Asians to better understand the Asian perspective, and become part of the effort to lobby their own governments back home about the concerns of the developing countries.

To hold a conference in Asia, without involving more Asian personalities or highlighting strongly either the problems faced by Asia or the many home-grown Asian solutions, was one reason why many Asians shunned the CEO Challenge. Mr. de Jong’s comments make amply clear why the Challenge reflected a top-down, West-is-best attitude that many in Asia are finding increasingly patronising. For a 57-year-old organisation known as the Pacific Asia Travel Association not to have understood that is hugely puzzling.


The talk-fest ended without a single new initiative or innovative conclusion. Unlike the International Air Transport Association which just the previous week joined the industry’s other top leaders in signing a historic declaration at the 3rd Aviation and Environment Summit, the CEO Challenge offered nothing new or ground-breaking. Those who could afford to come certainly gained a networking opportunity and knowledge base. The small and medium sized enterprises which could not make it will be provided a repackaging of existing information, much of which anyway is widely available on the Internet.

[Editor’s Note: All the high-powered presentations from the IATA summit can be downloaded for free: http://www.enviro.aero/summitpresentations.aspx]

Mr. de Jong hailed the quality of information on best practices. But if that was the intended outcome, it may have been better to simply compile PATA’s own long list of Gold award winners for sustainable tourism, and add the many other past winners of prestigious awards such as the WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, the WTM Responsible Tourism awards and the many others worldwide, and burn it on to a CD for sale. All are prime examples of industry best practices. PATA probably would have generated largely the same result, used far less internal resources and made a handsome profit.

On May 1, the day after the Challenge closed, local news coverage of the event was minimal, mainly because there was nothing new to announce and the event was competing for space against a far more newsworthy environmental event: Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan was in town for a Bollywood function and later proceeded to the UN regional commission HQ to plant a tree as part of the UN’s Billion Tree Campaign. No prizes for guessing which one got more coverage.

Mr. de Jong was later asked by Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil whether the turnout had reflected the “entire” industry, as claimed in the marketing pitch, and whether that word would continue to be used in the PATA communications going forward. His answer:

“We will continue to aspire to represent the entire industry and to make certain that the outcomes of this event are shared widely. This event was on the topic of climate change, not everyone is ready to commit their time to consider it perhaps the burning issue that we believe it is. So we have in PATA a very large mandate, responsibility and obligation of educating. And our largest single challenge will be to make sure that the results of this event are very carefully communicated to our chapters and members in those countries who are not here or could not be here.

“Perhaps if we choose a different topic next year, certain countries will have more interest in that particular issue. But the challenge can only be successful if it focuses on a single topic that the industry as a whole feels very strongly about as an opportunity or as a problem. It may change from year to year. It may focus more on the same things. Our delegates will tell us. This particular one was compelling or we would not have 250 some people in the event. Quite frankly, our target was higher than that but we are happy to have 250 as it was a very natural community for this type of event.

“So if the topic changes, perhaps we will have other representation around the room. Of if the topic is the same, more people from the industry who weren’t here will come back as they will know that this is also on their front burner and they need to be part of it. In fact, I suspect that as word of mouth, as they go home to their community, there will be a lot of interest to get access to what has been achieved in the past 48 hours. So the manner in which we communicate, and I also suspect that future CEO challenges will look to get a higher subscription. And we will have to deal with that, as we don’t really believe that we can grow this event much beyond its present numbers.”

Did that answer the question? You decide.


What this event will do for PATA is unclear, especially whether or not it attracts new members. Financially, according to one executive committee member, it is projected to make a loss of US$30-40,000, which would have been far worse had the Tourism Authority of Thailand and some Thai travel organisations not stepped in with funding support.

The key question is whether the PATA members and board members will seek proper accountability to probe the reason for the large gap between what was targeted and what was achieved, and whether the event was worth more than six months’ staff time of an already under-resourced and over-stretched organisation. In a report to the board at its last meeting in Colombo last April 7, Mr. de Jong had already signalled how the eventual outcome will be spun. He said, “The strategic benefit to PATA, quite apart from being seen as the creator and convenor of this high-level forum, will be to have connected and brought together several hundred industry leaders, among them many who had not previously or recently connected with PATA.”

Executive committee members, theoretically protectors of the association’s interests and custodians of members’ money, are rallying to shield themselves, and the management, from accountability. One member has indicated that they do not consider the projected loss to be worth making a fuss over. The board had already been told that as this was going to be a “first-time” event in a new format, there was a risk that it might not produce the desired results. The board was also presented with financial forecasts covering both best-case, worst-case scenarios. “In that sense, he (Mr. de Jong) covered himself well,” said one executive committee member.

The TAT, too, has indicated that it will not question the return on its investment, which was less than half that promised. TAT Advisor Mr. Udom Metatamrongsiri told the press conference that although the TAT had allocated 7 million baht, it had actually spent much less due to the lower than projected turnout. However, he said, overall the TAT considered it a good investment because it attracted many senior executives and media.

The best question and comment came from Denis Gray of the Associated Press, Thailand’s longest serving foreign correspondent, a veteran regional traveller and freelance writer for numerous travel and inflight magazines. Specifically directing his question at Ms Pollock, he asked: “How can an industry which is really hell-bent on growth, more hotels, more airlines, more of everything….how can it possibly help achieve anything more than a band-aid solution to climate change, especially when the industry is essentially unregulated?”

Before Ms Pollock could reply, Mr. de Jong interjected, “You certainly asked the right person to answer that.” Which prompted Mr. Gray to tell him why: “You are too much of a PR guy.” Laughter erupted all around.



<> Failed To Give The Membership The Respect It Deserves: The former annual conference, which the CEO Challenge was designed to replace, was always a gathering of PATA member executives of all levels across all sectors with a diverse range of issues. Members could decide who should attend. The CEO Challenge went elitist, pursuing only CEOs. It also sought to raise PATA’s profile among non-members in an attempt to bring them in. As D-day neared and that policy began to backfire, Mr. de Jong was literally pleading with the board members to sign up.

<> Made It A Single Theme Issue: Another attempt to put all the eggs in one basket, this again narrowed the focus, and shrank the audience base. Climate change, while important, is not really a top-line, doing-business priority for any CEO these days.

<> Sought To Get Too High-Level Speakers: In order to attract CEO delegates, the event had to attract a level of speakers of CEO-level and higher. The original plan targeted Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev and Rupert Murdoch. None worked out.

<> Charged Too Much And Then Started Cutting Prices. Convention organisers say that high registration fees usually guarantees there are no hangers-on, the delegates are serious and capable of providing input to the event. It usually ensures a high level of participation. To then start cutting the registration fee is fatal because it shows lack of commitment to the goal. It may add numbers but the event becomes unwieldy. That’s exactly what happened.

<> Split It With The Board Meeting: The PATA board meetings were always attached to the annual conference, allowing board members to cover both in one trip. This time, the board meeting was in Colombo on April 7-8 and the CEO Challenge in Bangkok, April 29-30. Not surprisingly, many board members couldn’t spare the time for both. Most opted for the board meeting.

<> Too Dominated By Sponsors And Premier Partners: As raising money for PATA was clearly a central aim of the conference, the sponsors and premier partners were prominently featured on the line-up of speakers.

<> Too Much Of A West-Is-Best Focus: The programme had almost insignificant Asian content and flavour. It’s almost as if Asia has little or nothing to offer by way of practical solutions to the climate change problem. They either did not look hard enough, or did not care.

<> Failed To Involve Debate: The discussions became a top-down mutual admiration club. Including other sectors like non-governmental organisations, of which there are plenty in Bangkok, would have provided an alternative viewpoint and encouraged debate, thus raising the intellectual value of the event.

<> Restricted The Media: Not only was the pre-event communications poor, the media was kept out of all the breakout sessions, which has never happened in the history of PATA conferences. As with Point 8, PATA clearly did not want the CEO Challengers to be challenged.

<> The Programme Was Finalised Way Too Late: The preliminary programme did not go up on the website until January, only four months before the event. By that time, conference organisers say, any event targeting this kind of an audience should be at least half subscribed.

<> Many Suggestions From Experienced Board Members Went Unheeded: Members were urging PATA management to be careful and do more homework about the entire product-pricing-positioning strategy before proceeding. Little was done. The event appeared to lack a credible and practical business plan.

<> Did Not Evaluate Carefully What Was The Real Agenda Behind It: The event had three objectives — to address a) the global challenge of climate change, b) the financial challenge of propping up PATA’s coffers and c) the personal challenge of paving the way for the end of Mr. Peter de Jong’s term on a “high note” at the end of 2009. PATA members will need to examine a little closely which “challenge” was being given most priority.

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