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Tbilisi, 25 September, 2007 &endash; Emerging destinations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are convinced that tourism is one of the best ways to boost their economies and are calling on the media to help put them on the world tourism map. Tourism officials from 37 countries began a two-day meeting with international and local media representatives as part of the Tourcom Conference on Strategic Communications, organized by UNWTO and the Government of Georgia in the country's capital, Tbilisi.

In opening the conference, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli highlighted his Government's commitment to tourism development: "With its rich history, culture and geographical diversity Georgia is quickly becoming an attractive travel destination. We are investing in hotels, restaurants (for our spectacular cuisine), transport and, most importantly, training. Of vital interest to us is the care of historic cities and towns and the survival of the Georgian culture of hospitality that every visitor wishes to experience."

The two-day conference brings together more than 200 participants, including journalists from BBC World, eTurbo, international news agencies, newspapers in Europe and the United States, including the famous Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler on his first visit to Georgia.

"The relationship between tourism and the media is vital and complex," said UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli in his inaugural address. "Tourism is highly dependant on media reporting because the vast majority of travel decisions are made by people who have never seen the destination first hand for themselves."

When there is bad news or crisis the impact on tourism can be devastating. "Tourists are scared away from destinations caught in the glare of round-the-clock disaster coverage, causing communities dependent on tourism to lose their source of livelihood," the Secretary-General added.

Preparing for a crisis and improving relations with the media are two of the objectives of the conference &endash; which is the fifth in a series of regional Tourcom meetings organized by UNWTO. Delegates will also discuss the potential of Silk Road tourism and how to better promote this legendary route so that tourists will begin to travel along the trails once used by camel caravans.

Other sessions will focus on the use of internet and new communications technologies, as well as the development of public-private partnerships in tourism.

Georgia &endash; with its Black Sea resorts and abundant natural attractions &endash; aims to become one of Europe's premier tourism destinations by 2020. Towards this goal, three new airports have been opened in the last three years, increasing air traffic tenfold. International hotel chains, including Hyatt, Radisson and Kempinski, are entering the Georgian market. Together with the President of Georgia Michael Saakashvili, the UNWTO Secretary-General on Monday inaugurated a new tourism school that will train workers needed to staff the growing industry.

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