Sho Dozono, travel
agent, wants to take you to Phuket, Thailand. Very soon. In fact,
hes leaving in less than two weeks, and he hopes hell be bringing
along an industry representative from every state in the country.
His trip has a dual
goal. He wants the industry to see for itself how that resort
island is functioning. And he wants the people of the island to see
that the U.S. travel industry is supportive, aware of their needs
and willing to assist.
of Azumano Travel in Portland, Ore., received a donation of $25,000
from Nick Stanley, the honorary consulate general of Thailand in
Portland, to help defray costs.
Dozono said he read
a column I wrote a few weeks ago (Rebuilding normalcy, Jan. 10). In it, I wrote that the
travel industry was in a unique position to assist tsunami
survivors to recover from the economic aftershocks caused by a
traveling public that believes the entire Indian Ocean coastline is
a disaster area.
Also in the column,
I mentioned how previously, within weeks of 9/11, Dozono had
brought a group of 900 local business leaders to New York. At that
time, he wanted to demonstrate solidarity between Portlanders and
New Yorkers and felt the trip would have important symbolic impact
for the travelers and hosts. Indeed, the trip was reported in
national media as a hopeful sign that things were returning to
credits that column with inspiring him to act again, but I suspect
he must have already been seeking a way to bring meaningful
assistance to tsunami survivors.
reaction for most of us is to want to do something, anything that
will bring some measure of relief, he wrote to me the day after the
column appeared. And we want do it now because of the unbearable
sense of urgency.
In the following
days, he crafted what he believes is an appropriate way for the
industry to help. In addition to bringing a group of business
leaders from Portland, hes also launching a national, industrywide
Flight of Friendship to Phuket that would be part fact-finding
mission, part fam and part demonstration of solidarity.
The 9/11 trip, he
said, had similarities but also important differences. At that
time, patriotism was a motivator, as was the need to help people
get over their fear of flying, he said. But looking back, in the
end it was the people-to-people connections that had the biggest
Dozono is concerned with the plight of industry workers -- the
waiters in the resorts, the maids, the owners of small shops. These
are the people who are really hit the hardest economically -- and
they wont recover until tourism returns.
Dozono worries that
the publics perception that the entire region is a disaster zone is
further fueled by industry ignorance and points to a poll of travel
agents that appeared in USA Today last week indicating 54% of
travel agents say to avoid the area, 17% counsel to delay trips and
15% advise canceling booked trips.
Eleven percent said
take the trip but purchase travel insurance, and only 3% said they
were encouraging travelers to go on the basis that the destinations
need tourism dollars.
He hopes the Flight
of Friendship will change that mind-set. Phuket was chosen as its
destination because its the best-known and largest resort area
affected. Sixty percent of the islands resort hotels are up and
The Flight of
Friendship has the support of ASTA, the Pacific Asia Travel
Association, the government of Thailand, the Tourism Authority of
Thailand and Hilton International.
arrive in Bangkok on Feb. 7 and 8 and visit Phuket and Krabi before
returning to the U.S. on the 14th.
In Thailand, a
delegation from the group will be briefed by U.S. Ambassador Ralph
(Skip) Boyce, and the whole group will meet with the governor of
Phuket and local business leaders.
Dozono blocked 75
seats on Northwest Airlines from Portland and 50 seats on Thai
Airways from Los Angeles for local business leaders. He will use
the donation he has received to pick up the land costs, transfers
and intracountry air for travel professionals.
We did not ask for
special deals, he said. We werent looking for discounts from the
people were trying to help.
He is encouraging
travel agents to work with carriers that depart from their home
cities to, at the very least, obtain an AD75 fare for their
He cautions that,
depending upon the size of the response, the funding he has
received will not necessarily be enough to help subsidize all who
want to go.
Those interested in
more details or signing up should visit www.flightoffriendship.com.