Attendance decrease forces PATA to scale back conferences

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After 55 years of holding annual conferences of up to five days, the Pacific Asia Travel Association has canceled its 2007 conference and is scaling back its annual meeting beginning in 2008, offering a shorter program and a more focused agenda.

Taiwan and Sri Lanka, which had been designated as sites for the 2007 and 2008 PATA conferences, respectively, have been advised to cease operations, according to a statement from PATA.

To be styled as summits, the revised meetings will be shortened to about two-and-a-half days.

Jim Ferguson, PATAs regional director for North America, said the summits will be more focused and more condensed, but no destination has been selected for 2008 because PATA is not completely set on the model. We have to get it set before we put it up for bid.

Looking for a bigger draw

Also, more time will be required to book the kind of high-level speakers who are often booked a year or two in advance, he said.

The summit is going to be more of an attraction, with iconic speakers, not just from the travel industry, Ferguson said. We want to attract outsiders, not just the PATA family.

He cited the example of a Larry King interview of Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, and noted that Larry King works for CNN, which is a member [of PATA], and Bono is all about sustainable tourism and the elimination of poverty, so who knows? You have to think big in order to get there.

The change was spurred by waning conference attendance. PATA wants to pump up the volume, Ferguson said. We want to make it a shouldnt-miss kind of event.

Although the 2004 conference on Jeju island, Korea, set an attendance record with 2,100 attendees, conferences have been averaging about 1,200, Ferguson said, down from previous averages of 1,500 to 1,600.

PATA hopes shorter conferences will be easier for time-challenged members to attend and less expensive to produce.

The summits will allow other countries without large budgets to put in bids to host it, said Ferguson. It was getting cost-prohibitive.

The events will be more outward-looking, with more high-level discussion on global issues, Ferguson said, in hopes of appealing to a broader base. It may not just be Pacific Asia. We may also incorporate African countries, because PATA has a working relationship with the African Travel Association.

PATAs board of directors decided at Aprils annual conference in Pattaya, Thailand, to drop the conference in favor of a new style of event that PATA CEO Peter de Jong said would demonstrate PATAs growing role as the convener of high-level discussions on the major global issues and opportunities that shape the travel industry.

The decision was ratified by the membership at the PATA Annual General Meeting on April 24. The idea had been under consideration for several years, Ferguson said.

PATAs international membership, which is made up of corporate members, has grown back to a record high after a post-9/11 setback, Ferguson said. But membership on the regional level has not recovered as well.

In other changes, PATA revised its mission statement as the economies of Asia have grown and now support more outbound travel, Ferguson said. Weve changed from the promotion of travel to and within Asia to promotion of travel to, within and from Asia.

The associations regional meetings will continue as before. In 2007, PATA will hold two board meetings and a new style of annual general meeting. It will also consider holding other smaller events in different parts of the Asia-Pacific region.

PATA will hold its Travel Mart in Hong Kong from Sept. 12 to 15. The Travel Mart is a separate entity, said Ferguson. Its been building on its success since we moved it out of Singapore a couple of years ago. We rotate it around the regions. It was slipping some. Now there is some new interest. We want it to be like the World Travel Mart of the Asia Pacific, a cant-miss event with business as the focus.

PATAs Americas Division will hold its Chapters Meeting in Boston on Sept. 29 and 30.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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