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12 Jun, 2014

PATA’s Myanmar drone stunt followed by crash

Mandalay: The Pacific Asia Travel Association laid claim to becoming the first industry grouping to demonstrate the aerial photography prowess of a remote controlled drone, only to see the flying machine come crashing down during another attempt the following day.

Initiated with great fanfare by PATA CEO Martin Craigs, the drone powered by four helicopter-style propellers was used to film a video of delegates after the Mekong Tourism Forum here on 11 June. About 100 delegates were invited to gather around the pool of the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel and become part of what Mr Craigs grandiosely called the first such attempt at a travel forum.

As delegates, and three hotel guests frolicking in the pool, looked on in amazement, the drone came buzzing over a canopy of trees and hovered right above the delegates, shifting from left to right and bobbing up and down under the unseen control of PATA’s hired photographer and videographer Eric Beaulieu.

As the battery-powered gadget has a short energy span, the publicity stunt only lasted for a few minutes before the drone was piloted back to wherever it was being controlled from. It did leave delegates enthralled, especially as Mr Craigs had introduced it by showing an aerial video, shot a day earlier, of some picturesque hillsides in the surrounding areas.

The objective was to introduce and promote the use of drone photography for hotels and other potential travel industry clients seeking to enhance their websites with aerial shots of their properties, especially if located on beaches or other idyllic areas.

Many delegates attending the poolside drone-demo thought it was a great idea.

But the accompanying dangers became apparent early the following morning of June 12 when Mr Beaulieu attempted to get some aerial shots of Mandalay’s magnificent temples by sunrise.

While doing a circular run around one of the pagodas, an unexpected gust of wind sent the drone plummeting about 20 metres into a tree, destroying the propellers and mangling some of the machinery.

Had such an accident occurred during the poolside publicity stunt, and anyone been hit or hurt, Mr Craigs would have been in deep trouble, along with the drone’s operator as well as officials of the hotel and the Myanmar Ministry of Tourism who, Mr Craigs told the MTF delegates, had approved the poolside demo.

Mr Beaulieu denied that any serious damage would have been done. He said the drone’s propellers are made of plastic and probably would do nothing more than cause some scratches. However, the drone’s camera, battery and other parts are all metallic. The entire gadget appeared to be about 60 cms by 30 cms, weighing at least one kilo.

If that fell 20 metres or more on anyone’s head, it would do some serious damage. If the victim happens to be uninsured, a lawsuit would be a certainty.

None of the delegates were publicly informed about what happened the following day.

Aerial drone photography is likely to catch on in the travel industry because it does have advantages. The contraption costs about US$3,000 and has to be assembled with a variety of parts. It was used by some of the Thai media to take aerial shots of recent political demonstrations in Bangkok.

But the PATA publicity stunt and the subsequent mishap has proved to be a God-send by alerting potential users of the risks and dangers, which can be averted by careful avoidance of any areas where there could be people or private/public property.

Those buying the service will also have to ensure that the exercise is insured, and the legalities sorted out of who is to be held responsible in case of accidents.

Consider this an exclusive early-warning industry service by Travel Impact Newswire.