An industry barometer

Travel exhibitions are baromters of the industry, providing a chance to launch new products, promote clients and learn about issues affecting the industry, says Matt Thompson, group exhibition director, overseas events, Reed Travel Exhibitions.

Q. What role do travel exhibitions and events play in the tourism industry? How much impact do such events have on the bottom lines of the industry?

A. Travel events are key components in the marketing mix for the travel and tourism industry. They provide opportunities to launch products, promote to new and existing clients, learn about issues affecting the industry, and to network.

Any exhibition, no matter what industry it serves, mirrors the state of that industry. In many ways, they can be seen as barometers.

Q. Reed Travel Exhibitions has a portfolio of major exhibitions around the world. What specific role do you see for the company as the organiser of such events?

A. RTE now organise 11 events worldwide. We see ourselves not so much as exhibition organisers, but travel and tourism people who organise events.

It is vital for us to be in constant touch with the industry so that we can continue to provide excellent events. Many of our events have advisory councils and we are members of many trade associations so that we can keep close relationships within the industry.

Q. The World Travel Market in London is obviously one of RTE's major events. What has the latest WTM achieved, especially in the light of the current gloom in the travel and tourism sector?

A. There is little doubt that, of all industries, tourism and aviation has been most affected by the events of September 11.

World Travel Market was the first big gathering of the industry since these terrible events and what was apparent was the sheer resilience and determination of the travel industry.

WTM provided a forum for people to debate the state of the industry and to realistically assess the short and long term impact. Although attendance was slightly lower than last year, there was definitely a cautious optimism throughout the show.

Q. How was the Gulf participation at the show and what was the response? Are you satisfied with the level of participation by Gulf countries?

A. The Gulf and Middle East representation at WTM remained strong. Naturally, we received some cancellations, which was disappointing (most notably from Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia).

However, there were certain areas of the show that were particularly busy - the Dubai stand, for example, had its largest number of private sector companies to date, and it was always busy.

Q. What are your plans in the region next year - specifically in relation to the ATM in May and the Mediterranean fair later in the year?

A. We recently ran the second Mediterranean Travel Fair - it was only two weeks after the September 11 events and was a better show than many people anticipated.

Of course, we suffered in terms of international buyers. Our pre-registration figures were much higher than the year before, but events out of our control and uncertainty in the market meant that many buyers did not come.

We could easily have cancelled the show, but we felt that it was important to support the tourism industry in Egypt and the Middle East, which is why we continued. Exhibitor expectations were obviously lowered and many for them were sympathetic. After all, they had experienced cancellations also.

For ATM, our plans are progressing as normal and we are optimistic that we can deliver an event that was as good as the last one. Of course, much depends on what will happen in the next six months on the global stage.

Q. The ATM 2002 is to move to the new venue - the Airport Expo Dubai. Do you see it affecting the event in terms of exhibitor or visitor interest?

A. Due to the development works at the World Trade Centre, ATM is moving to Airport Expo for 2002 and 2003. However, I do not feel that this will effect participation levels from either exhibitors or visitor.

A comprehensive communications strategy is already in place to ensure this new move is promoted thoroughly.

Q. There is a growing interest among Gulf countries to capture a big slice of the MICE market. What are the advantages offered by these countries and what are the disadvantages?

A. The MICE market is becoming increasingly important to the Middle East and there are huge infrastructural works underway in destinations such as Qatar, Dubai and Bahrain to capture this market.

As the Middle East becomes more accessible, it will gain more of a slice of this market.

Q. Overall, what future do you see for tourism in the region, especially in the near term in the light of the September 11 attacks in the US?

A. As mentioned previously, tourism has been badly affected as a result of recent events.

This is on a global scale, and not just limited to the Middle East, as consumer confidence has been badly dented, and many people are afraid to fly anywhere.

However, already there are signs of improvement and cautious optimism. Naturally, the Middle East will be badly affected, but it is important for the industry to stay strong and focused. There will be the need to re-educate people and overcome incorrect perceptions.

Q. Could you provide an overview of the trends in the world tourism market? What sectors do you feel should be targeted by the Gulf and Middle East tourism authorities and operators in their efforts to attract more visitors?

A. For many years now, tourism has been the fastest growing economy in the world. This trend will continue.

The MICE and business travel sector is a huge one and of increasing importance, but there are also growth areas such as eco-tourism and adventure travel, cruising, technology, religious tourism, youth travel, health resorts and spas.