WTM 2004 to be biggest ever

Clockwise from top ... file pictures of WTM 2004

WORLD Travel Market 20004 (WTM) is looking to hit record figures this year. Latest research shows that its 25th anniversary event will be the biggest ever.

Reed Travel Exhibitions, organisers of the world’s largest business-to-business forum for the travel and tourism industry, expect the size of the exhibition to grow by more than four per cent to nearly 39,500 sq m. More than 5,000 exhibitors from over 190 countries will be exhibiting. WTM takes place between November 8 and 11 at London’s ExCeL.
There has also been feedback from international exhibitors who are reporting a significant boost in business.
“There is a real sense of optimism among exhibitors this year,” said group exhibition director, Fiona Jeffery, “and although it is difficult to forecast exactly how much larger it will be, there is a definite increase in confidence after three difficult years for the industry. SARS, conflict and economic problems had all taken their toil but the signs of a much better future were apparent even as far back as the end of last year.
“We are talking and meeting exhibitors daily and it is great to hear some good news about how much better many destinations and resorts are doing. This has boosted a huge interest from both visitors and possible exhibitors from all regions and sectors. We are therefore cautiously forecasting a record event to coincide with our silver anniversary. WTM has always mirrored the ups and downs of the industry and I am delighted that the signs are there for a fantastic year at this landmark moment in our history.”
Jeffery continued: “The strength of the euro is determining business success, while the positive signs from the economies of the mature markets and some rebound from long-haul markets is seeing an increase in visitors to the majority of the European destinations.
During the first six months of the year European markets has been on the upward swing. Spain’s ended the year to May with a 3.8-percent increase over the same period last year and Germany is showing a 10-percent increase in arrivals for the first quarter of 2004 and 3-percent in tourism receipts until April. France’s overnight stays in hotels and similar establishments during the first five months grew by 1.4-percent over last year’s decrease of 7-percent in the same period.
The upsurge in Europe is also matched in the UK. VisitBritain’s reports that 12.5 million visitors travelled to the UK in the first half of this year, a rise of 13 per cent on last year and the ‘best-ever’ January to June period. Even the US is showing a small increase in inbound traffic and long haul travel generally appears to be on target to get back to pre-9/11 levels.
The change in the industry’s fortunes is thought to be behind the rush of new ‘names’ planning on exhibiting for the first time on their own stands.
“For example, the Central Asia republic of Uzbekistan is to exhibit at WTM, following a decision by the government to put the destination firmly on the tourist map,” said Jeffery. “I understand that the problem is that many people are unfamiliar with the country, even though all their cities are full of historical sights.”
Uzbekistan Airways flies from London and Birmingham to the capital Tashkent and the republic is featured in a handful of specialist travel brochures in the UK, but it has failed in the past to attract much interest until now, partly because of the difficulty of traveling around the destination that was once firmly in the grip of the USSR.
In addition to Uzbekistan, three other African countries are exhibiting for the first time – Lesotho, Mali and Gabon. In total, there are more than 70 new exhibitors including Abu Dhabi emirate and Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development from the UAE.