World Travel Market preview

First appeared in ‘Action Network’ (U.K).

There’s been a considerable amount of publicity concerning the tourist industry in recent months – not all of it favourable. There’s been the fear regarding climate change, fuel prices and security for a start. Carbon emissions have also been high on many people’s agenda and the industry has had a particularly difficult time often being seen as the pantomime villains taking much of the blame for the world’s problems.

Yet people still seem to be keen to travel and a recent estimate has the industry expecting a 4.3 per cent a year growth over the next decade.

This year’s World Travel Market looks set to be a lively event attempting to address the diverse elements of the industry. This annual four-day travel industry event for all the buyers and sellers in the tourism industry takes place at London’s ExCel and runs from 12 to 15 November. It brings together worldwide buyers and sellers from every sector of the industry. Last year 46,945 travel industry professionals participated at WTM 2006 representing 202 countries and regions.

The tourism industry seems to be one of the few industries actually getting on and addressing some of the serious concerns and finding practical ways of dealing with them. As an example of how seriously the tourism industry is taking their responsibility is that the World Travel Market (WTM) is making 14 November 2007 World Travel Market World Responsible Tourism Day (WTM WRTD).

This emphasis on responsible tourism was instigated in 2002 at the Cape Town Conference of Responsible Tourism in Destinations. At this conference a declaration for Responsible Tourism was developed the outcomes of which will continue to be developed at this year’s WTM WRTD. Amongst the incentives the Cape Town Conference looked at for responsible tourism was; minimising negative economic, environmental and social impacts; involving local people; providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists, and encouraging respect between tourists and hosts.

The premise of the WTM WRTD is to build on these initiatives and help drive more responsible behaviour by the industry and the public. The hope is to encourage people to take responsibility for making countries and destinations more sustainable. The one day programme will consist of a variety of seminars and debates looking at the issues involving responsible tourism. Some of the topics already planned include water, carbon offsetting and poverty.

This isn’t just a talking shop however. Over the year there has been a wide range of responsible tourist initiatives started. Examples of projects already in place include;

Association of Small scale Enterprise in Tourism (ASSET). This project aids seventy small tourist businesses in Gambia by helping local people in tourism jobs;

Rural Organisation for Social Elevation (ROSE). This initiative, based in India, is a not for profit organisation that uses a volunteer-based tourism programme to enhance the health, education and quality of life for the rural poor;

Tribes. This was an early tour operator programme that was set up to specifically promote holidays which would benefit local people, wildlife and the environment.

There are a number of major International organisations involved in initiatives that support communities throughout the world. Some of the sponsors for these programmes include Singapore Airlines, Marriott International, Avis and the Tata Group.

The WTM WRTD is running on 14th November 2007 as part of the 26th annual 4 day World Travel Market travel exhibition. This event is the largest travel trade experience in the world and last year produced some truly staggering statistics.

For instance, last year visitors to the event spent over £28 billion worth of business. At last year’s event there were a total of 22,481 visitors amongst a total of 46,945 total participants. There was also over 3000 members of the International press present. In addition there were over 5,600 companies exhibiting with a roughly 50 – 50 spread of participants inside and outside the UK.

Like last year’s successful event this year’s event is running under one roof at ExCel London, the international exhibition and conference centre, situated in London Docklands.

This year sees a boom in an unlikely new trend – food tourism. Holiday makers are now choosing where to visit countries because of their tummies, not their tans, the bhajis not the beaches.

Erik Wolf, president of the International Culinary Tourism association says, “The last 5 years has seen an incredible shift in the way holidays are marketed and it’s all because people are demanding authentic experiences.”

Long Travel, a specialist in rural Italy and Sicily travel reports that 85% of its clients now ask specifically for food advice when booking. Whilst Chicago, who would claim to have led the revolution by appointing Judith Hines as director of culinary arts and events eight years ago, feels that millions of tourists now come for the food festivals. These festivals include the 11-day taste of Chicago. This festival in July sees over 3.5 million people consuming 70,000 pounds of ribs and a quarter of a million slices of pizza.

Judith Hines explains “Food certainly helps boost tourism. Whilst cultural events like theatre might be a good hook for tourists, it won’t appeal to all; the attraction of food is universal.”

It seems that the whole world is coming to London in November to exhibit. From the United States in particular there seems to be a small invasion. There are exhibitors from Alabama to Washington, Iowa to Oregon, California to Virginia and most places in between. An unusual trend this year comes from USA in particular and concerns the rise in tourist companies dealing in different means of transportation within the country. There is an increasing number of exhibitors here that will be helping people get across, through and around the United States in a variety of fashions.

For example, there’s Liberty Helicopters. This is a well established company, started in 1985, based in Manhattan that offers sight seeing tours or charter flights across the North East of America. There are a number of tours available around New York

Then, if you fancy going further inland there’s Travel Oregon. This enterprise is co-ordinated by nine local commissioners appointed by the Governor of Oregon. The enterprise brings together all aspects of travel and tourism in Oregon. The range of information available to travel around the state is certainly well coordinated. Apart from the different methods of transport there are features on where to stay, what to see, what to eat, as well as access to weather and road conditions.

There are a number of family-owned bus and coach companies expanding into tourism. Some of them such as Lamers Bus Lines from Wisconsin and All Aboard America! from Arizona are fairly new to the tourism industry. There does seem to be the feeling though that this is a dynamic part of the industry and diversity seems to be the way forward.

A company from a similar , family-owned, family-operated background but now fully immersed in the tourism industry are Northwest Iowa Transportation Inc. The name conjures up images of solid, Midwest, blue collar workers and having been established in the 1970s in Des Moines and Fort Dodge that was it’s purpose – coach and bus transport around north West Iowa. However over the past decade or so it has diversified into tours and tourism. In 1993 the first international tour to Australia and New Zealand took place and from then on it has expanded and diversified.

Last year there were tours to places as diverse as Hawaii, Japan and Antarctica and this year there are tours scheduled to include the Amazon, India and the Galapagos islands.

It seems that WTM is the catalyst for some of these smaller companies to expand. Another of these USA coach operators, Escot Bus Lines from Orlando, Florida, has found the WTM experience of immense benefit, as Brian Scott, Vice President explains;

“This will be the 5th time we have exhibited at WTM. As a result of the efforts in these early years we developed relationships and partnerships with many other transportation and touring companies. So much so that we have now launched the Global Passenger Network with over 20 other member countries. In short WTM has expanded our horizons exponentially in terms of who we can now reach. WTM has made the travel world seem so much smaller and more accessible.“

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