Ecotourism fastest growing market in the business

ExCeL London

A collective industry muscle is needed to help communicate the message of responsible tourism across the world.
Fiona Jeffery  World Travel Market chairperson, talks to CHERYL MANDY

What are the major changes at WTM this year?
We have a number of new initiatives including our new admissions policy which has been designed to underpin the value of WTM as a four day business to business event, the WTM Global Economic Forum, the WTM Business Case for Responsible Tourism Conference, and the WTM Entertainment Zone.
I am particularly looking forward to hearing what the panel of economic experts participating in the WTM Global Economic Forum will have to impart for the industry. Currently the global credit crunch is affecting a number of sectors including airlines, hotels and tour operators. To help navigate this storm WTM will host the forum on Thursday November 13.

What is the biggest challenge to running the WTM, which you have done now for 21 years?
First I have to say that working on World Travel Market, the industry’s most significant global event, over the past 21 years is truly an honour and I am very privilege to work with an amazing team. We all work hard throughout the year to deliver an outstanding event.
I can say for certain, there have always been amazing successes and challenges that come with delivering such a vibrant event. Since the beginning, thousands of new services have been launched, millions of business agreements negotiated and too many lasting friendships forged to even count since the start of World Travel Market in 1980. The wonderful, often tricky, always hectic and definitely challenging colourful week that is WTM has grown and matured over the past 28 years yet the exhibition remains young at heart and filled with a vibrancy of new ideas for the future.
World Travel Market has defied black forecasts of doom, labour disputes, tourism crises, wars and political upheaval, the exhibition has also seen amazing growth with the number of countries participating rising from around 40 to 200 countries and regions and exhibitors growing from 220 to over 47,000 in 2007.

What kind of industry feedback did you receive last year about the market?
As with all events of this size and scope each year we endeavour to deliver excellent programmes and services to our attendees. Each year, including last year, we offer exhibitors and visitors alike, a topical and comprehensive educational seminars, conferences and events programme, along with opportunities for the global travel industry to come together to network and conduct business all under one roof.
Last year we received positive feedback about WTM for our initiatives, especially WTM World Responsible Tourism Day and hope that this year’s programme.

What can exhibitors and visitors look forward to this year?
Exhibitors and visitors can look forward to a full range of programmes, this year we are focusing on the impact of mobile technologies, responsible tourism, economic challenges, health and wellness, the growth and needs of the gay market and the airline sector to name just a few.

Which countries will be making their debut this year?
As with most years at World Travel Market we always have a number of new exhibitors participating and this year is no exception. To date there are 14 new exhibitors in the UK and Ireland region including Cutty Sark and the south west England Pavilion, in the European region Azerbaijan is returning after a long break and Fiji returns to Asia Pacific.

How many exhibitors come from the MENA region and how does this compare with other years?
The MENA region at World Travel Market continues to grow year on year as the tourism industry in the region matures. This year WTM will welcome over 400 exhibitors from the region where new products and services will be launched further increasing awareness and recognition of this growing tourism region.
Along with the growth of Middle Eastern representatives at WTM, increasing numbers of visitors from around the world are interested in finding out more on the region and actively selling it to their customers. A total of 36 per cent of visitors, comprised of over 8,000 international senior buyers who attended WTM 2007, actively sell the Middle East to their clients.

What new trends and factors should the Middle East take into account when marketing in Europe?
 The Middle East continues to grow its tourism sector with new hotel developments and activity projects catering to the European and UK markets, however it is also important that the region continues to maintain the Arabic flavour and culture which attracts these tourists to visit.

What will be the focus of WTM’s World Responsible Tourism Day?
The agenda has broadened; the industry is addressing the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Ecotourism is considered the fastest growing market in the tourism industry with a current international growth rate of five per cent, representing six per cent of the world’s gross domestic product.
The niche market of responsible tourism continues to gather strength as more and more organisations from across the industry adopt principles and knit them into their core planning and strategies for the future.
WTM World Responsible Tourism Day will debate and showcase companies and organisations from a hotel and tour operator point of view that have made excellent in-roads with regards to adopting sound responsible tourism initiatives.

Has the WTM managed to get the message across to the industry regarding responsible tourism?
Tourism is undoubtedly changing rapidly as nature; heritage and leisure destinations become key and as conventional tourism is forced to meet stricter environmental needs. This presents a challenge for government and the private sector to develop new economically viable tourism strategies.
The aim of WTM World Responsible Tourism Day is that it will act as a catalyst for change, motivate, inspire and spread best practice throughout the industry. But we need to do much more than simply pay lip service, especially by larger companies and organisations. It is noticeable that much of the current examples of best practice are operated by smaller organisations and specialist operators, often steered by passionate individuals who have given their life to ensuring a better world. Much more must be done by the international travel and tourism industry if it is to catch up with other sectors and fulfil the growing demands of holidaymakers.

Has there been more involvement from the Middle East this year as regards responsible tourism practices?
More organisations and companies must start to become actively involved in WTM World Responsible Tourism Day including organisations from the Middle East. This year we have approved WTM WRTD logo users from Lebanon, Morocco and Egypt. The industry, by its very nature, is healthily competitive. And no one would want to change its sense of creativity, enterprise and innovation. But this is the one time when collective industry muscle is needed to help communicate the message of responsible tourism across the world.
This is not about World Travel Market the brand or politics or even, for that matter, one-upmanship. It’s crucially about the future of our industry, about the next generation, about keeping pace with the acceleration of change, about giving an eye to consumer thinking. Above all, it’s about jobs, people and a better quality of life for all.