Evelyn Curtin-Spencer wanted to do
something to help. While on hold, waiting to make a donation to
Unicef to benefit tsunami survivors, the home agent from Chadds
Ford, Pa., picked up Travel Weekly and read about the Flight of
She read how Sho
Dozono, owner of Azumano Travel in Portland, Ore., was organizing a
trip to Phuket, Thailand, to show support for tourism workers
there. And as she read, she realized she wanted to do more than
just send money. She wanted to send a message of hope -- in
At about that same
time, 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, Annie Meyer opened an
e-mail from Dozono that described the Flight of
Meyer, a vice
president of Wells Fargo Bank, manages a $120 million travel budget
thats booked through Azumano. A few days later, she called Dozono
and asked if she could join.
repeated itself in one variation or another across the industry and
across Dozonos client base. By the departure date of Feb. 7, 61
people had signed onto the Flight of Friendship.
meeting planners and corporate travel managers joined suppliers
coming from the aviation, car rental and travel insurance sectors.
From his client list, Dozono recruited a member of the Federal
Reserve Board, an ex-senators wife, a city commissioner of Portland
and the head of the citys visitors bureau.
he secured the involvement of Nick Stanley, the honorary consul of
Thailand for the Pacific Northwest, who then helped secure money to
subsidize the trip as well as open doors to the highest levels of
officialdom in Thailand.
Upon arrival in
Bangkok, the leadership of the delegation was given private
briefings by Ralph Skip Boyce, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand;
ambassador Nitaya Pibulsongkram of the Foreign Ministry; and
Secretary Sakthip Krairiksh of the Ministry of Tourism and
Pibulsongkram later addressed the delegation as a whole, and the
group met with a director general of the Tourism Authority of
Thailand, the mayor of the city of Phuket, the vice governor of the
province of Phuket and the governor of Krabi Province.
Azumano Travel is an
American Express-affiliated agency, and Amex co-hosted a reception
for the delegates in Bangkok that was attended by Peter de Jong,
CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), the leadership
of the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, advisors to
government ministers and the ruling party and local business
leaders, including the general manager of Microsoft in
The message to the
delegation was clear: Many of Thailands Andaman Sea resort areas
already have recovered from the tsunami, and the local people are
eager for the return of tourists.
While some areas,
particularly on Phi Phi Island and in Phang Nga province, are not
ready for tourism, the majority of properties on Phuket Island are
functioning normally but are suffering from occupancy rates in the
Phuket and Krabi (another resort area affected by the tsunami), the
message from the delegates to their hosts was equally
We can see that the
products are attractive, Dozono said. Were convinced that its not
too soon, or inappropriate, for travelers to return. And well do
what we can to help bring travelers back.
Regardless of the
amount of business that directly or indirectly comes to Thailand as
a result of the Flight of Friendship, PATAs de Jong believes
something important has already been accomplished by the mission.
Even if its simply symbolic, its important to be a messenger, to
help change perceptions, he said. Its all about
De Jong also said
the velocity, focus and agenda of the Flight of Friendship is
pretty damn remarkable. Its the only joint industry-consumer
initiative of its kind that Ive seen.
Boyce hailed the
citizen ambassadors of the group, saying, Speaking as an American,
I have to say that this type of reaching out is amazing -- and very
For many of the delegates, the highlight of
the trip was marching in Phukets Chinese New Year parade. Simply
interacting with a festive crowd of residents reinforced the
understanding that, whatever disaster may have befallen the town a
month and a half earlier, life goes on in all of its
Dozono was generous
in sharing credit for the mission. He cites an opinion piece in
Travel Weekly as the inspiration for the project. He redirects
praise for the content of the trip to Nick Stanley, who helped
raise money and cut red tape. He acknowledges a debt to PATA, which
successfully encouraged its members to join the group.
But by the end of
the mission, there was no doubt in any delegates mind that the
Flight of Friendship took off because of Dozonos passion,
credibility and organizational skills.
Sho just has a way
of getting you involved, said the delegations co-chair, Elaine
Franklin, a political consultant in Portland.
He begins a phone
call by saying, Im thinking about ... and ends it with, We have to
do this, and I really need your help. Who can refuse?
Editor-in-Chief Arnie Weissmann, send e-mail to [email protected].
details on this article, see:
" Tsunami brings about rule changes on Thai
" Restoring buildings, rebuilding lives