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17 Nov, 2008

Obamania At The World Travel Market 2008

LONDON — Kenya, Indonesia and the city of Chicago have latched on to the “Obamania” bandwagon with tours and marketing campaigns highlighting their social, familial and cultural links with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.

Mr. Obama had a Kenyan father and Indonesian step-father. He lived in both countries during his childhood. He now resides in Chicago.

At the Kenyan press conference at the World Travel Market in London last week, 150 copies of Mr. Obama’s book, “Dreams From My Father” were snapped up after being bought by the public relations consultants Hills Balfour Synergy at 30% discount prices and distributed free to the media.

In Kenya, the election victory has galvanised the spirit of both the people and the tourism industry which was significantly affected by the political violence last year.

Najib Balala, the Kenyan Minister of Tourism, said, “His (Obama’s) victory is our victory. He has done as proud as Kenyans.”

Arrivals in Sept 2008 were 27% lower than Sept 2007. But now, Kenya has launched a recovery programme that will include a 10 million Euro budget funded jointly by the European Union and the Kenyan Government and a US$ 2 million advertising campaign with a major global TV network.

The minister said the tours being launched to places mentioned in the book will open up new areas of the country never visited before, and that the country is projecting a 10%-15% growth in arrivals this year.

With plans amongst the East African countries to launch a single-visa scheme, the minister said he expected Kenya’s neighbours to benefit too.

Asia is to be included in the new marketing campaigns, especially Bangkok as Kenya Airways has just upgraded its services to a daily service, and is reportedly planning further boost in capacity. It also flies to Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

The Indonesians have not been as quick off the marketing mark, but Dr Sapta Nirwandar, Director-General for Tourism Marketing at the Department of Culture and Tourism, said they are waiting for proposals from some U.S. tour operators to be finalised before providing marketing support.

He said that with Mr. Obama’s election, “we expect an upsurge of visitors to Indonesia in 2009 interested in seeing where he spent formative years of his boyhood and went to school. We already have travel agents preparing “Obama Heritage” tours which we are sure will be very popular in a world fascinated by this global figure of hope.”

Indonesia is targetting seven million arrivals this year, up from 5.5 million in 2007.

The Chicago Tourism office printed thousands of copies of a brochure entitled “Presidential Chicago” on the day Mr. Obama was elected, and has been distributing them widely around the world.

Calling on visitors to “enjoy the city the Obamas enjoy,” the brochure identifies some of the places where it says the president-elect and his family eat, shop and stay.

These include a Mexican restaurant, a bookshop, a clothes shop frequented by the “soon to be First Lady,” basketball courts, baseball stadiums and a hotel.

Mr Obama’s election has also helped the industry in other ways.

Although all forecasts point to a slump in tourism next year, thanks to the continued fallout of the global financial crisis, the gloom has been offset by a feeling of hope amongst many industry sectors that Mr. Obama will undo the damage done by the Bush administration.

Deviating from the prepared text of his speech, the outgoing Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organisation Francesco Frangialli expressed hope that the incoming U.S. administration will help restore global financial and economic stability.

“It’s time for change,” he said, echoing Mr. Obama’s campaign slogan. “Change we can believe in.”

The UNWTO reports that the financial crisis is only compounding the difficulties faced by the industry as a result of the recent surge in oil prices and their impact on fuel surcharges.

Global growth in international visitor arrivals has slowed dramatically in June, July and August, according to the UNWTO Barometer. In the Asia-Pacific, after having grown at a sustained rate of over 7% for upto 18 consecutive months upto March 2008, growth declined to 1.5% in June and July and turned to negative in August.

The UNWTO has set up a “Resilience Committee,” chaired by Zohair Garrana, Minister of Tourism of Egypt, to provide real-time market information and suggest industry responses. The first of a series of response groups meetings will be held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh between 23-24 November to focus on the Middle East and Mediterranean Regions.

In another development, the Pacific Asia Travel Association has nominated Greg Duffell, presently the CEO of Bangkok-based Indochina Services Travel Group, as its new president and CEO.

PATA Board members are to be sent an email circular this week seeking their ratification of the decision by the executive committee. If approved, Mr. Duffell is expected to take up his new position at the end of January 2009.

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