Sunday, May 12, 2013

Laos Best Tourism Destination awarded: Who is behind it?

It went all over the news in Laos, and even neighboring countries. Laos awarded as best Tourist Destination in 2013. The awards was handed over by the "European Union Council on Tourism and Trade". That sounds quite impressive. But in case you think that has anything to do with the European Union, you are wrong. The EUROPEAN COUNCIL ON TOURISM AND TRADE( ECTT )is, according to its website, "a non-profit making organization with its headquarters in Bucharest . Its members are from 27 European Union Tourism Organizations , whose role is to market and promote tourism and investment opportunities outside the European Union in general, and to individual countries in particular." Sounds still good, but the next paragraph makes the real goal a bit more clear: "This is ECTT's corporate website, which is aimed at industry, government and educational personnel interested in obtaining tourists from European Union to their countries." A screenshot shows that the Visit Laos Logos are well placed on the websites right sidebar. If you scroll a bit further down, you will see the winner of 2012, Trinidad and Tobago. The council resides in Bucharest, not really the melting pot of the tourism industry in Europe, and not really the best place for lobbyists. Asking who is behind this, it is a bit difficult to get answers.
"WHO ARE THE MEMBERS ? The European Tourist Organizations insuring the outgoing of national tourism on non European Union destinations . They elect a President, two Vice-Presidents as members of Board of Directors for revolving six years terms."
Let's get some names: Vice-President for Marketing & PR Technology Task Force: Nicoale Nicolae Mr. Nicolae Nicolae was Vice president of UGIR 1903 (General Confederation of Romanian Industrialists), a national multi-sector organization that represents businesses of all sizes and more than 16% of Romania’s employment base. Mr. Nicolae was or still is also the owner of a commercial printing company. Other names are Dr. Mircea Constantinescu, Senator Ionel Agrigoroaiei, Prof. Dr. Anton Caragea, at least in 2012 Director of Institute of International Relations and Economic Cooperation in Bucharest. All of these names are Romaina, and all of them work for some Romanian companies, institutes or organisations. In September 2011 the same Prof. Dr Anton Garagea, also President of the European Council on International Relations, opened a military trade show which appears to have been organized by the ECIR. A better idea of who is who gives the European Tourism Academy, also fully staffed with Romanians. One would wonder since when Romania has become the place to go for tourism training. Trinidad Express wrote an interesting article about the way Trinidad got awarded last year.
However, Prof Anton Caragea, president of the Bucharest, Romania- based organisation, said that the Minister had approached the organisation in April to find out more about the award. Speaking to reporters at the same event, he said, "The Minister of Tourism asked us—I think it was in April—how can Trinidad and Tobago obtain this award for next year? We gave them the guidelines and started the selection process. When this was completed, only three countries remained: Cuba, Nigeria and T&T.
The only problem is that the Tourism Minister Rupert Griffith recalls the story a bit different:
"We did not woo them—this did not cost us a penny. They informed us that they were doing a study of Trinidad and Tobago in terms of its tourism, culture and environment to relate to people around the world. They got copies of our tourism policy documents and plans...
To make it a point: This award is not known in the tourism industry. The ECTT is not affiliated with any part of the European Unions Institutions. It is questionable where the money is coming from, and in Trinidad rumours spread fast that despite a deny from ECTT money was given to receive the reward. ECTT says on its website:
ECTT is entirely financed by members contributions and with additional financial support for specific campaigns is raised overseas. Long-standing foreign industry support for ECTT activities is proof of its credibility and stability in the field of tourism .
But it doesn't name any of the donors of contributors. It is quite common that for awards like this that a kind of fee is paid, either for travel expenses to hand over the awards (totally overpriced of course), or some operational and administration costs. The whole story reminds me of the New 7 Wonders awards. GooSeeWrite has a nice summery of this. It looks like the Lao government just fell for the ECTT, mainly because of their desperate need to get good news, and unfortunately many media organisations got fooled as well. I understand that Lao people are proud of any news about their country, but sometimes it is quite embarrassing. And I also understand that me, the messenger, will blamed by some for the bad news.

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