NEW DELHI, India -- In
a keynote address, J.W. Bill Marriott Jr. waxed about the beauty of
nature and the sense of place. Separately, Marilyn Carlson Nelson
called upon listeners to be stewards of the environment, protectors
of cultural heritage and concerned ... with human rights.
Subsequently, a general
session was held to tune into global vibrations.
On the surface, the
World Travel and Tourism Councils (WTTC) annual summit had become
the industrys equivalent of Woodstock.
The event drew
headliners (in addition to Marriott and Carlson Nelson, Starwoods
Barry Sternlicht, TUI AGs Michael Frenzel and India President APJ
Abdul Kalam spoke). Delegates contemplated the joy of corporate
discourse became grounded in the twin mantras of growth and
profits, and platitudes were liable to morph into
Marriott followed an
upbeat introduction of opportunities and prospects for travel
companies with comments taking airlines to task for slowing growth
potential by failing to provide convenient service to important
Its astonishing to me
that more than 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, airlines
are just beginning nonstop flights between major U.S. cities and
Berlin, he said. Flights are the ultimate catalyst for continued
dynamic growth in travel and tourism.
represented at the CEO level only by regional and low-cost
carriers, became the focus of other discussions, as
A session on synergy became
temporarily bogged in the chicken-egg debate about which comes
first, passenger demand or lift, and subsequently, over worries
about fuel prices. Even Gulf Air President James Hogan complained
that he had had to adjust his budget forecasts due to the rising
cost of oil.
As in past summits, no
major problems were solved, no surprise announcements were made and
the debate, though at times pointed, remained polite.
Much of the attraction
of the summit is due to what WTTCs president, Jean-Claude
Baumgarten, calls the fantastic density of power represented by the
councils membership and other high-profile attendees.
And, as it does year
after year, discussions bring to the surface the issues that are
most on industry leaders minds, no matter what the sessions
This year, those issues
were fuel costs (guarded concern), development in China and India
(guarded excitement), corporate responsibility (enthusiastic
endorsement), Internet pricing transparency (anathema to hotels in
the Western world, much-ado-about-nothing in the East) and media
reporting on crises (anathema to all).
More than 600 delegates
attended, but only 38 were dues-paying members of the Council. The
WTTC is an elite club, until recently capped at 100
The council includes
CEOs of many of the worlds largest travel companies as well as
those with a strong, ancillary interest in the industry, such as
credit card companies (the CEOs of Visa International and Diners
Club were in attendance), investment bankers and insurance
companies (AIGs recently disgraced former chairman Maurice Hank
Greenberg belongs to the WTTC, but was not present).
At the closed-door,
members-only general meeting, the agenda was, according to sources
in attendance, mostly perfunctory: approval of the budget, a review
of how the WTTCs crisis- intervention model performed during the
tsunami and discussion about how to refine and give more utility to
the councils research.
nature of the members meeting differs dramatically from the 2003
meeting, when the council was in crisis mode, strategizing how to
combat the combined effects of recession, SARS and war.
WTTC research released
at the meeting this year, however, may provide some insight into
why the members meeting this year was so placid: The travel
industry is an industry on the mend.
Demand for travel and
tourism is expected to grow 5.4% in 2005 (to $6.2 trillion), with a
forecasted annualized growth rate of 4.6% over the next 10
Identified risks to the
forecast include U.S. budget deficits; an abrupt fall in the
dollar; a Chinese hard landing; renewed European and Japanese
recession; terrorism; and tax and environmental constraints on air
Perhaps in anticipation
of an abrupt fall in the dollar, the WTTC budget is itself based on
the premise that over the course of the year, the exchange rate for
one euro would average out to $2.
The weak dollar is an
issue for the organization because dues are paid in dollars, but
operating expenses are paid in pounds (the WTTC is headquartered in
There are other
organizational concerns for the WTTC. Every major U.S. airline
except Continental has dropped its membership over the past four
years, which has budgetary implications and affects the
organizations perceived and actual influence.
Baumgarten said the
organization lifted its 100-member cap in order to grow membership
rapidly. Still, the cost of entry is steep
and getting steeper: The $100,000 membership dues were increased by
3%. Baumgarten said the council is negotiating with a global
partner for research, which may provide additional
Baumgarten said the
council was also reaching out to the cruise industry (currently,
that segment is represented only by the Carlson Cos., which owns
Radisson Seven Seas) and that the WTTC was developing a plan to
re-engage and assist distressed U.S. air carriers.
Editor-in-Chief Arnie Weissmann, send e-mail to [email protected].
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