American Tourism Society plans to raise awareness

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The American Tourism Society, a destination marketing organization focused on former Iron Curtain countries and the Middle East, plans to play a larger role in facilitating tourism development in those countries.

The ATS counts 64 members, including the national tourism organizations of 31 countries and regions.

To be more effective in helping members realize their tourism potential, the ATS needs to grow and it needs more funding, said Phil Otterson, chairman of the organization's strategic planning committee.

Otterson, who is also executive vice president of external affairs and global alliances for Tauck World Discovery, said the ATS board of directors has approved a broad plan to grow the organization, enhance its funding and operate a regular schedule of educational programs in the U.S. and overseas.

Otterson said his committee will reconvene after the new year to refine details and set dates for each step along the way.

Clearly, he said, the first step is to find the funding "to be aggressive about doing our good work."

Fundraising will be a three-pronged project: The ATS will launch a membership drive, solicit candidates to act as sponsors for specific projects and seek government grants.

With enough resources, Otterson said the ATS could launch seminars "for every segment of members and potential members" and for members in the U.S. as well as overseas.

For example, the ATS could offer a seminar for tour operators in a "transformational" destination, Otterson said. The seminar would provide information on how to market to Americans and how to deliver on the product to create satisfied customers. This would include some education about American culture so the travel seller could more effectively respond to travelers' habits and expectations.

The idea of operating an ongoing seminar program has been bubbling at the ATS for a while.

In the spring of 2005, the group operated a full-day seminar in Gdansk, Poland, for ministers of economic development representing Poland and the Baltics.

Otterson called that session a prototype for projects under discussion now.

Also, he said, training would go "both ways," with Americans attending sessions led by their overseas counterparts.

The purpose would be to teach U.S. operators and others how to do business in specific destinations.

Otterson said operators need to familiarize themselves with legal challenges, cultural and political barriers, whom they need to know at the destination and how to make those contacts.

"No other organization has this raison d'etre," Otterson said. "There's altruism in this."

However, the ATS is not well-known.  Otterson said that most nonmembers don't even know that the ATS exists. That has to change for the group to be effective, Otterson said.

The ATS was born in 1987 as the American-Soviet Tourism Society. At the time, the organization protested price hikes by Intourist, the official tourism organization of the Soviet Union, when product quality was declining and Intourist was set to sell direct in the U.S.

After the Soviet Union dissolved, the ATS regrouped and turned its attention to marketing for regions and countries with tourism challenges.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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