It would appear, on the surface,
that last week's TheTradeShow was attempting to be all things to
all people: a consumer travel show, a travel agent trade show, a
pan-association gathering, a destination showcase and an
educational/training conference complete with ship inspections.
"It is very
different," said Bill Maloney, executive secretary of ASTA, which
took top billing among the multiple industry producers and
sponsors. "It had to be different. ASTA World Travel Congress was
dying. We had to stop producing 'The Lawrence Welk Show.'
I have sympathy for
Maloney and the challenges he faced last week. And faces still. It
would appear that among the multitude of constituents he is trying
to please, there are a multitude of suggestions that seem to
conflict sharply with one another.
expressed unhappiness that consumers were allowed in on the first
day of the event. They called it "Agent Bypass Day" and complained
that it was providing a forum for suppliers to solicit business
At least one
supplier had a different take, and it wasn't the consumers who
"Agents should not
be allowed on the floor on that day," said Art Jimenez, director of
leisure sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
"A lot of them came in on Sunday, walked the show, and that was it.
They played the rest of the time."
incidentally, may count a bit more than those of other suppliers.
TheTradeShow is moving to Las Vegas next year, and the LVCVA is
going to be more than marginally involved. The event has a 13-year
biennial commitment to Las Vegas.
to agent complaints about consumers on the show floor revealed some
"We need to bring
something new to suppliers," he said, "and we benefit [from
consumer presence] because, guess what: They see that travel agents
are still here. And we don't need to worry about supplier-direct.
Do these agents really believe that consumers will go into the show
and, for the first time, be finding out about Avis and
"The show is
designed for enlightened suppliers and well-connected agents," he
continued. "I heard an agent complain that we had invited Rick
Steves (a consumer guidebook writer) rather than having industry
speakers. But consumers don't know (outgoing ASTA President) Kathy
Sudeikis; they know Rick Steves. The question agents should be
asking themselves is: How do I get Rick Steves into my life? How do
I leverage this opportunity?"
Some agents were
creative in taking advantage of consumer day. They brought
consumers to the Sabre booth to show them how agents use the GDS to
save clients money. One local agent arrived with clients in tow and
walked the floor with them.
"I'm taking them
shopping," she said.
And though I spoke
with several suppliers who grumbled about the show being "slow,"
there were also many who seemed pleased. Teri Lightfield, general
manager of Ya'lla Tours USA, left the conference with five new
groups in hand. Michaela Klare, regional manager of the Americas
for the German National Tourist Office, said it exceeded her
expressed impatience and frustration that "ASTA still doesn't get
it," but a sizeable number concurred with Jimenez when he
"It's 100% better
than last year. It's better than I expected. It's not where it
needs to be, but the needle's moving in the right
Maloney seemed to
be monitoring the feedback. He said he was "grateful" for the
participation of cruise lines but also indicated he knew they would
reserve most of their energy for CLIA's trade show. Going forward,
it seemed clear he would be focusing on tourist boards and tour
"The real star is
destinations," he said. "We want to be a focal point for national
tourist organizations. We had a special session for them. They can
schedule their North American strategy around this show.
"And tour operators
are getting their asses kicked by cruise lines. Some of the groups
that agents are putting on cruise ships, they can put on tours. We
can help them educate agents about that."
In other words,
with one TheTradeShow under his belt, Maloney hinted that he plans,
to some extent, to follow the advice he's been giving travel
agents: Stop trying to be all things to all people. Specialize and
As Jimenez noted,
the needle's moving in the right direction.