‘ATM brings the world together under one roof’

As all the world travels to this month’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM), scheduled for May 2 to 5, Reed Exhibitions’ Chris Chackal, exhibitions director for the Arabian Travel Market, the Meditarranean Travel Fair and the CIS Travel Market, tells SHALU CHANDRAN just why we need a travel exhibition in the age of the internet


How does ATM 2006 compare with last year?
2005 was a huge success – we met all our goals and ended up with just about 18,000 visitors and delegates in total, the highest ever, and 16,000sqm of space. We were 30 per cent larger than 2004.

This year we’re up 35 per cent in terms of exhibition space with almost 21,500sqm – all 10 halls at the Dubai World Trade Centre. There are also a lot of new marketing features this year.

So how has the exhibitor mix changed? What about new countries and exhibitors?
Geographically, a lot of the existing large clients have increased their exhibition space so that more products and corporate sector services could join them, whether hotel groups or corporate companies. We have 71 new exhibitors this year – these are new companies and new countries. We’re very excited to welcome Japan for the very first time as also Ireland and Poland.

How much has Dubai’s marketing helped ATM?
It helps substantially because everybody now speaks about Dubai being the 21st-century country. It’s very dynamic, very driven and represents very well the whole Middle East, which is an emerging market for a lot of inbound and outbound business, and I think people recognise Dubai as having the vision. Dubai also has world-class facilities, and when hosting an event like ATM, we’ve got to think about people coming from all over the world. We work very closely with the government of Dubai and the venue, where we’ve been for 12 years. We did go to Bahrain in the second year, but came back because it was very established and it was the right place to stay.

What can exhibitors and delegates look forward to this year?
This year we’re doubling the seminar programmes. We will have 12 sessions across a wide range of current issues and tomorrow’s trends with some quality speakers. We will unveil for the very first time, with MICE magazine, some very interesting Middle East statistics on the MICE market. Our popular host and buyer programme has grown with 110 buyers, 90 in the meetings and incentives segment and 20 in the luxury travel sector operated from various GCC states, but mainly the Saudi and Kuwait tour operators.

What are the specific markets that have benefited from the ATM? Has the ATM made a specific impact on tourism in the region?
Every country that participates benefits. We are not likely to get the 92 per cent re-book repeat business rate that we do if they are not actually doing contractual business.
In terms of benefiting the region, it has certainly created a very important platform for the industry. People have started timing new product and service launches for ATM, because they’re using it as a showcase to all the decision makers who will be present.
Apart from Dubai, and evidently Abu Dhabi, a lot of the GCC countries have really benefited from ATM, as have Lebanon and Egypt. International visitors, who come to the show, might want to do business with three or four countries, but actually get an opportunity to newer ideas and get introduced to new markets.

But a travel exhibition in the age of the internet?
Our shows prove that you can never beat the human contact. People like seeing each other again. Relationships grow, business ideas grow, meeting new people that they wouldn’t have met otherwise, repair and build bridges where they thought it was the end of that.
We have a very strong concept, and what we do is get destinations and travel products from five continents with Reed exhibitions’ experience, database and capital we bring in the quality buyer audience. The ATM represents the Middle East but is very much an international exhibition that’s up there with the likes of WTM and ITB, which has been running 40 years! ATM is now only in its 13th year and has already shown such dynamic growth. Our value proposition to everyone is to unite the world under one roof.

There has been an increasing thrust towards technology, how much will the ATM contribute in embracing that?
We have tried to update ourselves and have revamped our website recently into nine different languages. We’ve got Russian, Chinese and Arabic and it was very well received. We are also considering creating some specific areas where we can improve travel technology issues.

What motivated you to launch the New Frontiers Award?
The New Frontiers Award, which we have launched this year, is presented at the exhibitor’s party and will be given to the destination that has made outstanding contribution to tourism. We wish to return to the exhibitor what they have contributed to tourism in the face of overwhelming adversity and that is going to be decided by a panel of people we have put together from the industry, associations and charities. There is going to be an independent panel of international judges representing charities, media, associations.