ATM is the region’s growth barometer

Simon Press, exhibition director, Arabian Travel Market, believes the exhibition has served as a barometer to the regional travel and tourism industry’s growth and development. He talks to SHALU CHANDRAN
ATM Grand opening 2007

CELEBRATING its 15th anniversary this year, how much has ATM grown? What has to be done to keep it vibrant each year?
The evolution of the show has been a continuing process, much like that of the regional industry and reflects the Middle East’s emergence as one of the most prominent and exciting tourism hubs found anywhere in the world.

When ATM made its debut in 1994 we had 300 companies participating from 52 nations. Almost 50 percent of these exhibitors hailed from outside the Middle East and more than 7,000 visited the show - including 2,500 consumers.
Those figures have increased year-on-year with the 2008 show’s crystal anniversary most certainly a landmark event. However, the core element of the show’s development is not size, it is the content and industry specific net worth we deliver.

As the new exhibition director, what can we expect to see at the show this year?
I am extremely lucky to be walking into a show that already has such a strong foundation for me to build upon.
What we have tried to do for Arabian Travel Market going forward is to develop the knowledge delivery of the show to both visitors and exhibitors to foster an enhanced environment where business can be achieved.
We have implemented a number of new initiatives to help us achieve this goal. We have actively focused on staging a series of thought leadership seminars, which will be chaired by well known industry heavyweights.
For the first time in ATM’s history, these will take place on the show floor to encourage a more interactive forum for discussion and knowledge sharing for all.
These sessions are inline with our vision to guarantee the exhibition as a content rich experience and they underline our commitment of ensuring the show is, without question, the premium platform to conduct business for the international travel and tourism industry here in the Middle East.
We have also made sure exhibitors and visitors have enough pre-event information so they can determine how best to utilise their time at the show. We endeavour to ensure that the right people are talking to one another.
We have also strived to make the ATM experience a 12 month initiative that is not limited to the show’s four days. The knowledge delivery platform has been upgraded, allowing exhibitors to make the most out of their presence.
ATM 2007 attracted the highest ever visitor turnout in its history. Can we expect to see another record breaking show?
Whilst we are always optimistic about our turnout numbers it is hard to predict at present.  However we are very much focusing on the quality of visitor coming through the door, not necessarily the quantity. We are, of course, looking at expanding on the 2007 outing, where more than 12,850 trade professionals from 108 countries attended - up 5.1 per cent on 2006 – with an eight per cent increase in overseas visitors.  We are also attracting more hosted buyers this and we have already confirmed the 125, the largest number of hosted buyers that we have brought to Arabian Travel Market to date!

How much business is actually conducted at the show? What are your projections for this year?
It is very difficult for us to ascertain exactly how much business is conducted at the show, although this is something we are investing in for the future. However, we are extremely confident that Arabian Travel Market is the must attend exhibition for regional inbound and outbound travel and tourism industry professionals which incorporates a holistic overview of the entire industry.
We understand that exhibitors’ and visitors’ time is an extremely precious commodity and as such we have developed a conclusive information portal on our website that allows registered participants to interact, plan and set up meetings ahead of time.
In addition, this year’s hosted buyer initiative, which will bring in 125 top international exclusive and first time buyers here is the biggest to date with specialists from the leisure and golf segment and meetings sector providing a unique opportunity for the region’s travel and tourism industry to meet the right partners in a convenient one-stop-shop setting.
These hosted buyers will be available, for the first time, between 9-11am on the opening day of the show to meet exclusively with interested parties.

Have you addressed the various problems faced by visitors and exhibitors, last year?
We have looked at improving some elements of the show. Firstly we have amended the timings so our participants miss the majority of rush hour traffic, meaning a smother flow of movement around the show’s opening and closing. The new times are from 11am-7pm.
We have also revamped the floorplan so that it encourages a balanced visitor flow. For 2008, we have joined the UAE and GCC exhibitors with the wider Middle East and we have also moved the European exhibitors nearer the main entrance, which has its own concourse. This means that there are now many more European stands with front row standing.
For us, what is essential is that we continue to listen to the exhibitors and visitors, and ensure we are providing the right platforms to allow these groups engage effectively with each other.
We are aware that the show’s physical growth and an increase in visitor numbers must be developed in unison. For this, we need to communicate the content that makes ATM the place to conduct business for the international travel and tourism industry.

What can exhibitors and delegates look forward to this year?
The seminar programme has a great speaker line up and will cover key topics including critical human resource issues in the region, ground breaking medical tourism initiatives, recruitment and retention strategies in the Middle East’s hotel industry, the future of travel agents and the development of online travel bookings and the role of the internet and new web marketing techniques going forward.

What can we expect to see at the show’s inaugural Travel Agents Day?
Travel Agents Day will boast the latest top class travel and tourism education, combining skills, learning, product knowledge and great competitions.
This day, which is being developed in conjunction with Arabian Travel News, will give destinations a chance to brief travel agents on their offerings. We have also made it more interactive by giving out ‘passports’ that need to be stamped by key destinations. Once those have all been filled in, they go into a draw to win some great prizes.

How far has ATM managed to encourage responsible tourism? Over the years, how has the region shaped up in this area?
From our side, we have definitely seen an increase in companies who actively promote responsible tourism practices. For example, this year we have participation from Masdar – the world’s first carbon neutral city based in Abu Dhabi and Banyan Tree Desert Spa and Resort, Al Areen, in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Seminar programme
Tuesday  May 6:
1200-1300  Eos: Uncrowded, Uncompromising, Unairline: The Unairline Concept
Speakers: Adam Komack, John Morgan Eos Airlines
 1300-1400  Starting a Low Fares Airline in Saudi Arabia
Speaker: Andrew Cowen, Sama Airlines
1530-1630  American Express - Agent Disintermediation
Speaker: Mark Turner, American Express
Wednesday May 7:
1130-1330  Recruitment and Retention Strategies in the Middle East Hotel Industry
Panel of speakers from Rotana Hotels,, Hospitality Search International, Hyatt International, Kerzner International
1330-1430  MeetMe and GIBTM - A Meetings, Industry, Conferences and Events Overview by NPI Media
Speakers: Graeme Barnett, GIBTM; Rob Nicholas, MeetMe
1430-1530  Motivate - Going Green
Speaker: David Van Der Meulen, Motivate
1530-1630  Palazzo Versace - The First Fashion Branded Hotel
Speaker: Anne Jamieson, The Sunland Group
1630-1730   World Tourism and Trade Council - Global Outlook, Regional Trends for 2008 and Beyond
Speaker: Jean-Claude Baumgarten, WTTC
1730 - 830  TravelMole-Social Networks and Web 2.0
Speaker: Graham McKenzie, TravelMole
Thursday May 8:
1130-1230  FutureBrand - Country Brand Index Results and Findings
Speaker: Rina Plapler, FutureBrand
1230 - 1330  SilverJet - All Business Class Airlines - The New Success Story
Speaker: Lawrence Hunt, SilverJet
1330-1430  Medical Tourism and the Emerging Industry of Global Healthcare
Speaker: Jonathan Edelheit, Medical Tourism Association
Renée-Marie STephano, Medical Tourism Association
1430-1630  The Big Debate: The Future of Travel Agents and the Development of Online Travel Bookings Hosted by SFT Bank.
Various speakers.
1630-1730  An Introduction to TravelEyes
Speaker: Amar Latif, TravelEyes
1730 - 1830  YOTEL - 21st Century Travel
Speaker: Gerard Greene, Yotel