What has it been like running WTM for 20 years?
Challenging and exciting! There is nothing more stimulating than seeing the whole massive event coming together with the whole world literally meeting under one roof.
What energises and empowers the WTM team is when we are able to make an impact on business and the bottom line as well as help everyone working in the international industry to learn, exchange views and plan for a successful future.
WTM is the only global industry event of its kind that is strictly business to business. This means that our ultimate aim is to facilitate high yield business, providing fresh and different opportunities to identify new markets, negotiate business, make new contacts, network and learn about the latest cutting-edge developments, trends and products.
More importantly, independent research revealed that an estimated £28 billion ($57.2 billion) worth of business was negotiated between middle and senior management professionals and exhibitors at WTM 2006.
What has to be done to keep it interesting and vibrant every year?
We have tried to make every single WTM fresh and different by introducing new focus and events. International travel and tourism is changing at a tremendous pace and we can only hope to provide customer service for exhibitors and visitors by reflecting and predicting these trends and developments worldwide. By monitoring the ‘pulse’ of global tourism, we aim to make a valuable contribution to the ongoing planning process for business.
This year, for example, we are working once again with Euromonitor International and will be presenting a regional report on Global Trends, including the Middle East. There are also more than 70 other events this year, embracing a wide variety of sectors and interest, catering for every industry. This includes airlines, hotels, spa, health and wellness and technology and online travel.
What has been the growth strategy for WTM over the years?
WTM has grown virtually year on year, but for us this is not as important as delivering a quality business to business event. Our objectives centre on attracting international buyers with purchasing authority (via the WTM Meridian Club) as well as senior management and industry professionals representing every region and every sector. So far, independent research and data demonstrates we have been lucky enough to be able to achieve this.
One of our growth areas over the past three years has been in technology and online travel, which reflects the fact that it is now a cornerstone of the global industry and consumer booking patterns have shifted quite dramatically in some regions. Interestingly, our growth is broadly in line with a continuing explosion in the sector of up to 20 per cent. The great challenge now is to keep it up!
What kind of industry feedback did you hear last year? How have you reacted?
We take the comments of our exhibitors and visitors very seriously and hold great store by the results of both qualitative and quantitative independent research.
There were a number of issues which were raised and we are addressing. For example, we have introduced a Super Personal Event Planner (or Super PEP for short) to help exhibitors conduct business with other exhibitors more conveniently, particularly on Thursdays. Last year, surprisingly, you might think, close on a staggering £9 billion worth of business was conducted just between exhibitors, who wisely took advantage of the quieter times during the exhibition to maximise their investment. The PEP was successfully introduced by WTM two years ago, helping visitors to plan their visit more effectively by matching their own business interests and preferences with exhibitors and their products.
The Super PEP continues to offer the same results-oriented business approach, but with additional benefits that put exhibitors directly in touch with other exhibitors that have a similar business profile.
Another new development which has been introduced as a result of exhibitor comments is further opportunities for exhibitors to meet more of the 3,100 UK and international media who attend WTM.
What can exhibitors and visitors look forward to this year?
Key issues for this year will be responsible tourism and climate change. The first WTM World Responsible Tourism Day, in association with the UNWTO is to be held on November 14. It will be the most ambitious day of action of its kind ever held.
This global initiative has already attracted high profile supporters, including respected industry groups such as the WTTC and PATA, as well as Sir Richard Branson and international environmentalist Professor David Bellamy. It means the international travel industry can work together as one unifying and universal force to actively make a difference in protecting environments, respecting local cultures, supporting local communities, conserving natural resources and minimising pollution.
The day links in with the event’s annual dedicated day to responsible tourism which has become an established part of WTM over the past 13 years.
The international travel and tourism industry is already making an increasing contribution to responsible and sustainable tourism with many companies and organisations taking action. But more can and should be done.
We need to show the world that the moment has come to change; keeping our beaches cleaner, preserving the kind of stunning scenery in the MENA region, save wildlife and glory in historic buildings and precious heritage. I hope that governments, organisations and travel companies in the MENA region will take part in this great crusade to show consumers that we care about the environment and communities. I am delighted, for example, that Morocco is making responsible tourism a key strategy and is participating in WTM’s WRTD Day.
On the eve of WTM’s World Responsible Tourism Day, we are hosting a top-level Ministers’ Summit on climate change, organised in association with the UNWTO.
More than 250 government ministers, senior aides and environmental experts are expected to participate at the summit on November 13. The UNWTO held a meeting in Davos, Switzerland in early October with environmental experts who agreed a draft declaration on climate change which is being put to the Ministers’ Summit. The final agreed declaration made by Ministers at WTM will be presented at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Bali during December this year.
In addition to environmental issues, there are a number of other priority topics at WTM including, for example, our China conference. The WTM ChinaContact forum – the only one of its kind outside of China – will be held on November 14. It aims to help businesses cash in on what will be the largest source market and top tourist destination by 2020. Over the next 12 years this is expected to grow at more than 10 per cent.
Which countries will be making their debut this year?
We do have a large contingent of new exhibitors or returning exhibitors. Bosnia and Herzegovina comes to WTM in London for the first time this year, as part of a new drive to attract tourists. The Bosnia and Herzegovina Tourism Association’s research, conducted among 56 operators across the world, has revealed the majority were unaware of its main attractions or selling points. Surprisingly, many still had concerns about the safety of travel in Bosnia and Herzegovina – despite the fact the war ended more than a decade ago!
Gibraltar – situated at the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula – returns to WTM for the first time in four years, following a significant thawing in relations between the UK and Spain.
Another exhibitor this year of note is the Italian cruise operator MSC Cruises, exhibiting at WTM for the first time. MSC’s decision to exhibit comes at a crucial time for the independent operator, which is set to expand its fleet from eight ships to 12.
What about exhibitors from the MENA region?
Last year we had 425 MENA exhibitors but we expect this to be more than 450 this year. Major new MENA exhibitors with their own stand for the first time or who are returning to WTM after some years is Etihad Airways and the Yemen.
Abu Dhabi is the Premier Partner at WTM 2007, do you see the region playing a more important role in terms of investment in the tourism sector?
Yes absolutely. Abu Dhabi has signed to a two-year agreement to become WTM’s official Premier Partner for 2007 and 2008 in a move that underlines its commitment to building its profile in the UK and wider European market. Abu Dhabi has emerged as one of the world’s most rapidly developing destinations in recent years and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) has set a target of more than doubling annual visitor numbers from 1.35 million last year to over three million by 2015. Abu Dhabi will use the platform of its Premier Partner sponsorship to help promote the philosophy of Abu Dhabi, as a destination attractive to more discerning upmarket travellers and to showcase its ambitious plans to expand and diversify its tourism facilities.
How specifically do you see Abu Dhabi emerging as a tourism destination?
Abu Dhabi is aiming to attract the high end market and I have no doubt that this mission will be highly successful. You simply cannot fail to be impressed by their energy, creativity, backed up by major investment.
What new trends and factors should the Middle East take into account when marketing to the UK and Europe?
The UK and European market are looking for value for money but also are seeking new destinations and new experiences.
It is a much more sophisticated, socially aware and well-travelled audience than say 20 years and MENA operators need to bear this in mind. The Middle East is much in demand with these regions and I cannot see this changing in the foreseeable future.
The business opportunities are immense for the MENA, especially at WTM where, as you would expect, we have a very large contingent representing the UK and Europe.
What is your message to the Middle East?
I hope sincerely that as much of the MENA industry as possible will become actively involved in WTM’s World Responsible Tourism Day. It is absolutely critical if we are to be able to hand over this beautiful world intact to our children and grandchildren.
Finally, I would just like to take this opportunity to say how much I am looking forward to warmly welcoming MENA exhibitors and visitors to WTM between November 12 and 15 in London.