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Asian Area Assembly in Okinawa 2001

"Here's to Skalleagues wherever they may be good health long life friendship prosperity ... SKAL". So goes the Skal Toast and it will be instantly recognized by members known as Skalleagues from around the world. The Skal International Organization (headquartered in the Spanish city of Torremelinos) brings together the Executive and Senior staff of the world's travel industry. The guiding people of companies as diverse as airlines shipping lines travel agents car hire groups travel media and trainersand hoteliers will usually be a member of Skal International. And if they're not THEY SHOULD BE because they create the chance locally and internationally of forging opportunities of friendship and social contact with their fellow travel industry business associates.

The local Skal International North Thailand Club recently had three representatives attend the 30th Asian Skal Assembly which was held in Okinawa. This annual event draws together members from the 17 Skal Clubs within the Asian areas starting from Japan stretching over to Bahrain each Skal International area (Middle East U.S.A. Europe Africa etc.) hosts its own Assembly and also once per year organizes the Skal World Congress.

The venue for the Asian Skal Assembly is rotated each year so this time it was the turn of Okinawa. The Skal International North Thailand Club played host in 1998 when the gathering met at Chiangmai's Westin Hotel and drew a record breaking 250+ delegates. As the Asian Skal Assembly is said to be the friendliest of the friendly (every Skal member is friendly!) it is little wonder it is so popular with visiting Skalleagues from other parts of the world.

The Okinawa host club had made splendid arrangements with the Assembly being held at the Busena Resort this is where the politicians and financial wizards of the G8 group met in July 2000. So Okinawa was looking its best although there was sometimes light rain with the fineness of Scottish Dew or Irish Mist. It made everything fresh and green. Before getting down to the serious business of the Assembly Skalleagues were welcomed at a cocktail function and entertained by a delightfully noisy drum corps. Pounding the huge Japanese drums and maintaining the right rhythm is not as easy as it looks (to some Skalleague's embarrassment) but the Okinawa Youth Drum & Dance Corps gave a display of great polish and determination.

As the actual working days of the Assembly are busy ones for the Skalleagues many of the delegates take Pre and Post Assembly tours in order to understand and appreciate the attractions of the local venue. And the three representatives from our North Thailand Club Skal International North Thailand President Margaret Bhadungzong accompanied by WTCMCR's Editor Goson Bhadungzong plus Mr. William Harring were no exception. Taking advantage of the hotel shuttle service they took a 2 hour drive into the capital city of Naha which is similar in size to Chiangmai. The vista is ever changing passing through many hills curves and sweeps. It's a quiet and clean city. The tourists flock to International Street where anything and everything is available to tempt every visitor. The fresh produce market is an air conditioned (and odorless!) expanse to delight the eye. Skinned blowfish and a rainbow spectrum of green orange and red fishes lay atop beds of glistening ice. And the vendors were ultra friendly as they offered tempting morsels of pickled vegetables and the like. When comparing prices of produce to that of prices in Chiangmai proved to be startling. For example one locally grown Okinawan pineapple is Baht 300.

Another excursion featured a full day tour to the southern coast of Okinawa island where a cultural "theme" village and the exploration of a huge cave filled an interesting morning. Lunch was buffet style at the magnificently sited "Esperanza Restaurant". Perched high on a cliff top the restaurant affords views over the coastline and ocean which on that cloudy day were brooding and dark featured. Next on the agenda after lunch was a lacquerware factory and a museum specializing in blown glass but the most poignant memorable visit was to the Peace Memorial.

It seemed entirely suitable that a misty rain was falling during the visit to the Peace Memorial. The cascade from the Memorial fountain represents "peace" as it sprays and laps across the continents of the world as they are depicted in mosaic at the base of the fountain. A walkway leads from the fountain to row upon row of names of the Okinawans Americans Allied forces and Japanese who perished during WWII and this is etched with small waves and eddies to continue the flow of peace. Appropriately the date of the visit to the Peace Memorial was also National Memorial Day in the United States.

The guide saved the fascinating Shogun castle for the final stop. The fortress sat on the hilltop overlooking the Naha harbor. It must have been the perfect setting for a private evening dinner hosted for the world's most powerful G8 heads of state.. A suggestion for readers who might visit Naha City is to ask that this be the first stop on the tour. There is much to see and linger over in the various exhibitions.

Touring finished the North Thailand group headed back to Naha for some last minute shopping and their final night on Okinawa island. Fortunately they hadn't been scheduled to fly out on this day since 107 flights had been cancelled due to the misty foggy conditions. So contemplating the message of the Peace Memorial and reflecting positively on the friendship and travel camaraderie at the Skal International Asian Assembly the was the better road to follow. Tourism is the Passport to Peace and Skal International is the body to which all executive travel personnel should belong. SKAL!

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