Ill give lip service to
the importance of international travel as a way of increasing
product knowledge, but in reality I think exploring a foreign
destination is the single best perk of working in the travel
I was disappointed
in December 2002 when ASTA announced that it would not have
out-of-country Congresses after Montreal in 2005. And those
feelings stirred again soon after I arrived in Hong Kong last week.
Its such a terrific destination -- why not continue to serve up
world-class international venues as Congress sites? The stated
rationale for staying domestic (and alternating between Las Vegas
and Orlando) was that it was part of the necessary right-sizing of
the organization following the industry downturn after
I felt at that time
that it was an overreaction to commit only to domestic destinations
at that point and believed that when the economic environment
improved, the industry would be willing to make the time and spend
the money to travel abroad.
But now that the
2004 Congress is drawing to a close, Im reconsidering my position.
On one hand, 2004 has been a year of recovery for the industry,
with most suppliers and agents saying theyre experiencing strong
sales. But despite 2004 being a good year, suppliers didnt show up
in large numbers in Hong Kong -- the trade show was small, and many
companies that had sent senior officials last year were represented
by only lower-level employees in Hong Kong.
Though its a travel
agent organization, ASTA needs strong supplier attendance at the
Congress -- a significant portion of its anticipated revenues come
from World Congress trade show profits. Were suppliers staying home
because it was in Hong Kong, or because they are still cautious
about spending, or because they feel there has been erosion in the
value of the travel agent channel?
caution. In general, the pendulum appears to be swinging back in
the direction of agency appreciation, but there are still lingering
concerns about spending among suppliers.
When I spoke to
ASTA Executive Vice President Bill Maloney in Hong Kong, he backed
the association away from earlier statements that suggested the
domestic-only policy was permanent. The organization has signed
contracts that commit it to the domestic path through 2011, but we
can always review this again, he said.
He pointed out that
even if members express a willingness to go abroad there are
A host country
wants the focus to be on them, he said. They dont particularly like
it when an agent spends time at the trade show talking to a Bermuda
or domestic destination reps, he said.
To satisfy agents
desires to see foreign lands (and the desire of tourism officials
of foreign lands to see U.S. travel agents), ASTA began what it
calls International Invitationals, which are educational fam trips.
One is slated for Prague in 2005.
I hope ASTAs
decision to meet closer to home will be re-evaluated frequently.
There may come a point where agent interest in visiting the same
two destinations year after year wanes, and if so, there may be
fewer agents signing up.
The bottom line is
that agents will again want to go where their clients are
traveling, and if they do so in large numbers, suppliers will