THE World Travel Market (WTM) will roll out a major annual initiative concerning responsible tourism at its opening ceremony this year, says event managing director Fiona Jeffery.
The event will encourage the industry to show its support and commitment to the sector to make the world a more responsible place to live, she says over the telephone from London, refusing to divulge any more until the event itself, which is set to be the biggest edition of the show yet.
Set to be substantially larger than last year, floor space was at 51,500sqm three weeks before the event, as compared to about 41,000sqm last year. Already, 5035 exhibitors of travel and tourism products have taken stands at the event and requests are still coming in she says, so the show looks set to fill out ExCel, in London’s Docklands, its venue for the past few years.
Some 49,000 visitors attended last year, and if the numbers cross the 50,000 mark this year, Jeffery says she and her team at Reed Travel Expo, which organises the event, will be delighted.
Among the new destinations exhibiting at WTM are Moldova, African countries Sudan and Cape Verde, and from the Middle East, Fujairah. Other new exhibitors include Lan Airlines, Caribbean Sun Airlines, Northwest Passage, the Hyatt and Hilton International.
Sixty-five events run alongside this year’s show, including seminars, conferences, product initiatives on the world state and award ceremonies. In fact, there’s so much going on – besides the sheer size of the show, that Jeffrey says visitors need a minimum of three days to do the entire show. “We encourage visitors to plan their trip in advance, to decide who they want to see and initiate contact beforehand, rather than wait to get to the event, because they may go away disappointed.”
At the annual Minister’s Programme, for instance, 100 ministers, high commiss-ioners and representative ambassadors get together over a day-long programme of events and an evening networking reception.
Three high profile conferences will run alongside this year’s event, in concert with IATA, ChinaContact and Travolution. The two-day airline conference, ‘Synergies for Future Growth – Aviation and Travel and Tourism’, will explore the relationships between aviation and travel/ tourism to achieve sustainable growth, and discuss the aviation issues that impacted the industry this year; and the increasing impact of the online world will be explored in the two-day [email protected], where leading figures from The Guardian to Google will address how the travel industry can benefit from new media in a consumer-driven market.
Meanwhile, the first pan-industry conference on bilateral tourism relations between China and Europe, WTM’s ChinaContact Conference ‘China – the Future of Travel’ will take place on November 6 and promises to bring together government and industry players from the outbound and inbound sectors in Europe and China. “Despite the fact that China is forecast to become the world’s top tourist destination and the major tourist source market by 2020, much around China’s tourism industry remains shrouded in mystery. That is why this conference is crucial to professionals seeking a deeper understanding of the opportunities and how to conduct business with the Chinese,” says Jeffery.”
In addition, the event’s annual – and most diverse ever – seminar programme takes on a slew of issues, such as space, the luxury market, women in tourism, spa and wellness, maximising potential on the web, reaching the gay and branding, sales and marketing trends, return on investment and the future of the travel agent. Space Adventures’ Eric Anderson will speak on ‘Space exploration: the next generation of travel’, while other seminars include ‘The rise and rise of spa and wellness tourism’, organised by British International Spa Association; ‘The future of the travel agent’, with Paul Evans of the Lowcost Travel Group and Todd Carpenter of the Travel Trust Association; and ‘Looking into the future of tourism: the Tourism Business Frontiers Forum’ chaired by Professor David Airey.
“WTM’s Responsible Tourism Day will highlight key issues, case studies and best practice bringing together tour operators, national tourist offices, travel agents, government organisations, international travel associations, specialist environmental companies, academics and key opinion leaders in one place at one time,” says Jeffery.
Perhaps most important of all is Agents Day on November 9, and the annual Wise Up! Programme, geared to helping agents improve their knowledge and information about the latest products in the market place, she adds. There will be a focus on the technology and cruise markets, with several exhibitors including Germany and Switzerland running special programmes for agents.
TRUST AND TRADESHOWS
The show’s increasing emphasis on technology prompts me to ask, don’t tradeshows lose their impact in this wired world? Jeffery believes the contrary: they’ve become more important. “As business gets more global and we become more reliant on international partnerships, relationships are still built on trust and understanding, and that comes best with face-to-face contact.”
Which is why the industry gets together at WTM – and why the organisers have had to become more stringent with their buyers’ association, the Meridian Club. “Exhibitors were advising that some people were coming in as Club buyers but were actually suppliers or exhibitors. So we’ve tightened that up, and we’re expecting between 12,500 to 13,000 Meridian Club members this year.”
Jeffery has been on the team putting together the event for 20 years now, watching it grow and nurturing the industry alongside. “The internet didn’t exist when I first did the show, so obviously that’s had a huge impact in terms of globalisation and tourism, but I’ve seen the show grow and evolve tremendously,” she says of the changes she’s seen over the years.
Being in the position that she is in, she can pretty much push the industry into a direction of her choice, and even shape travel trends.
“We’ve definitely led with responsible tourism. When I launched the environmental awareness day 13 years ago, people though I was stir crazy, but for the first time, 13 years down the line, responsible tourism is becoming mainstream. Because of the unique position we’re in, we can take the lead and drive developments, such as a spa and wellness focus, and accreditation and safety issues,” she agrees.
The other big WTM initiative is Just A Drop, the only global tourism and travel charity which provides children and families with clean water worldwide.
From her perch on top of the travel pyramid, then, she lists this year’s big trends: the rise of solo holidays, particularly in the UK; a greater customisation of holidays in the USA; the development of the gaming market in Asia; the rise of the Middle Eastern carriers; and Europe’s engagement with the Asian markets, particularly China and India.
So, as a travel insider, where does she want to go next? “I love Africa, it’s my favourite continent and I’ve never been to Tanzania or Botswana. I’d like to go to Borneo, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and yes, Antarctica.”
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