Dispatch, WTTC Summit: The Oscar Goodman Show

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Arnie at WTTC

The following are quick hits and observations from the World Travel and Tourism Council's Global Summit in Las Vegas. 

The first day of the 2011 World Travel and Tourism Council’s Global Summit featured a U.S. cabinet secretary (Transportation’s Ray LaHood) and a senior advisor to President Barack Obama (Valerie Jarrett), but flamboyant Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman stole the show when he walked on stage between sessions with a feathered Las Vegas showgirl on each arm and a martini in his hand.

He welcomed guests, declared he was mayor of the happiest city in the universe and walked off.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter later told me there really was gin in that glass.

I don’t doubt it but, happiest city in the universe or not, the mayor may have been in a sober mood that day — I later saw the martini on a tray, undrunken, in the summit’s green room.

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Kathleen Matthews, Marriott’s vice president of global communications and public affairs, received a couple of very impressive shout-outs: Both LaHood and Jarrett said that it was she who persuaded them to speak at the summit.

 

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LaHood spoke at length about his pet project, high-speed rail, crediting the initiative to President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s "vision."

During questions following his remarks, someone asked whether the plan could muster support on both sides of the aisle. "Absolutely," LaHood replied.

"I’m a Republican serving in a Democratic administration. Transportation is bipartisan. There are no Democratic or Republican roads. There are no Democratic or Republican bridges. And there are no Democratic or Republican high-speed rail lines."

 

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When delegate Ted Balestreri, director of construction for Cannery Row, asked Jarrett why the U.S. doesn’t have a Cabinet-level tourism secretary, she replied the president was working to streamline government, all but saying that there does not need to be another federal bureaucracy. When Balestreri continued to press the matter, she said she would bring the idea up to the president.

I imagine the conversation may be brief, and go something like this:

Jarrett: "I promised I would bring up the idea of a tourism secretary to you. Now that I’ve done that, let’s move on to things we might actually do."

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Ian Goldin, an Oxford economist, former World Bank vice president and former advisor to Nelson Mandela in his native South Africa, gave a keynote on future trends that, in a nutshell, said the future will be more different than we can imagine.

He made one observation about global progress that I thought was a keen insight, succinctly put: "The global story is really only the summation of national politics."

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Jeff Clarke, CEO of Travelport, speaking on the future-focused panel that followed Goldin's speech, observed dryly, "The fact that we carry physical passports shows stunning failure on the part of governments to embrace technology."

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Mexico Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara stressed the need to reshape the partnerships between government and the private sector, saying, "You can have the best promotion in the private sector, but if it's a hassle to get the visa, it won't work."

She pointed to the success of a visa policy change in Mexico. (We presume it was the move to allow people who had gone through the rather strict process of obtaining a U.S. visa to go directly from the U.S. to Mexico without having to get a Mexican visa.) She credited the policy change with adding 300,000 visitors last year.

Later, Marriott President Arne Sorensen pointed out that Israel is now granting visa waivers to Chinese citizens. If security-conscious Israel is willing to do that, he pondered, "Is there a way we can find to welcome people from markets all over the world, and still solve our security issues? I think the answer is yes."

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PhoCusWright CEO Philip Wolf brought welcome energy to a speech he gave, and interviewed both TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer and Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshai on stage.

During that session, I tweeted that Wolf had said, "The golden age of the web is over. Welcome to the 'splinternet.'" (He defined the "splinternet" as the splitting of the Internet among search-related functions, apps, mobile technology, etc.).

Almost immediately I saw my tweet had been answered by Wolf’s archrival in the Internet research field, Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research. Harteveldt said, "Forrester first used the term splinternet in January 2010. Philip was late to the party."

Not taking sides, I will only say the term reflects keen insight, succinctly put.

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I interviewed TUI Executive Chairman Michael Frenzel on stage in the afternoon. It was part of a session called "The Business of Doing Business."

Prior to the interview, the tone was set by corporate travel heavyweights such as Charles Petruccelli, president of American Express' Global Travel Services, and Doug Anderson, president and CEO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel. There was also a presentation of research demonstrating the return on investment of business travel.

I confess I found the transition to Franzel a bit difficult: TUI runs a cruise line, resort hotels, tour operations, yacht charters and specialty travel divisions too numerous to mention. In fact, it is the largest leisure travel company in Europe, having long ago sold its corporate travel division.

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China is the Center of the Global Travel Universe, Part I: Starwood CEO Frits Van Paasschen said he is building so many properties in China that he will be moving to China and working there for five weeks. He added that Starwood held its last earnings call from Beijing.

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China is the Center of the Global Travel Universe, Part II: Former WTTC CEO Jean-Claude Baumgarten, who handed the job over to David Scowsill last year, was present and sitting in the front row during the sessions.

He told me during a break that he has started a consulting firm to advise "nations, regions and cities" on tourism, and that he found out on the day the summit started that he has been named chairman of the Hainan International Tourism Board in China.

Baumgarten said he is the first foreigner to head up a tourism-marketing organization in China. He will be splitting his time between his home in Paris and the town of Haikou.

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China is the Center of the Global Travel Universe, Part III: After Shanzhong Zhu, vice chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, finished a presentation on China's comprehensive tourism plans, moderator Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, asked for a copy "to personally put in the hands of our prime minister."

I asked he were actually going to do that. "I absolutely will," he said.

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China is the Center of the Travel Global Universe, Part IV: Simultaneous translation headsets were on every seat. One speaker, Hiromi Tagawa, CEO of the Japan Travel Bureau, addressed delegates in Japanese, and channel 3 of the headset was programmed for those wanting Japanese-to-English translation. The other two channels were Mandarin-to-English and English-to-Mandarin.

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