Austrian Show Packs Them In Again

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SALZBURG, Austria -- This country's most significant travel trade event of the year, Austrian Tourism Business, has a strong following of attendees -- and not just because the Austrians know how to throw elaborate apres-show parties.

The 22nd ATB, which was held here in February and featured 944 suppliers, attracted almost 1,000 participants from 67 countries, many of whom have been attending the show since its first year.

More than 90 U.S. buyers, a record number, were present.

So what makes this event so popular?

Ruth Pattrin, president of On Location Tours, in Burnsville, Minn., said the answer is simple: "As a tour developer, it is invaluable that you meet the individuals you are working with eyeball to eyeball."

Pattrin, who has been in the travel business for 35 years, has attended 18 ATBs.

She stressed the importance of meeting the people who operate the travel products in a country.

Her 6-year-old company specializes in consulting travel agencies on how to develop destinations.

The company's primary destinations are Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and its main client is AAA.

Pattrin said that ATB, and the pre- and post-tours, also always unveil "little jewels," such as a group of intimate guesthouses or a cluster of villages.

"People think the world is becoming so small with no unique corners left, but Austria is full of them."

Herlinde Moosbrugger, a tourism representative for Vorarlberg, the westernmost province of Austria, agreed that the personal contact is good for business.

"ATB is a good way to meet many potential clients who have a serious interest in Austria and showcase what the country has to offer," she added.

One of the many first-timers at ATB, Manfred J. Schneider, president of Clark Travel, a full-service travel agency in Clark, N.J., found the event to be very detailed, varied and informative.

Currently, about 5% of his European clients, which are mainly FITs, go to Austria but he hopes to build on that number.

Schneider stressed that "this is definitely a working trip" and people are not here just to sightsee but to get business done.

He also is an Austria Certified Travel counselor and has found ACT to be a valuable educational experience for retailers and a good network of specialists for consumers.

Dianna Logan, president of Towne & Country Tours in Dendron, Va., also attended ATB last year and finds that attending the event makes it easier for her to tailor programs to Austria.

And being able to custom-design itineraries is crucial for a tour operator that specializes in special-interest tours, she added.

Prior to attending ATB last year, Logan sent few people to Austria but that quickly changed.

She organized three programs to Austria in 1996, and this year will add three more, including a Rose Garden tour, a Shubert program and a bird-watching itinerary.

All the agents and operators present agreed that it is important to experience a destination to be able to better relay it to clients.

Pattrin summed it up best: "It is like the difference between reading an interesting story and actually being the main character written about in that story."

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