Growth continues at World Travel Market

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LONDON -- Despite a gloomy global economy, terrorism fears and instability in Iraq, organizers of the annual World Travel Market here expect the trade show to be about 5% larger this year, continuing a recovery trend that began with 12% growth in attendance last year.

A record 190 participating countries will join more than 5,000 other exhibitors -- including more than 100 new companies or organizations -- at the show, to be held Nov. 10 to 13 at the Excel center in London's developing Docklands district.

Four countries -- Abu Dhabi, Albania, Belarus and Vietnam -- are attending for the first time.

Fiona Jeffery, group exhibition director, attributed some of the growth to a program of cost-cutting incentives for exhibitors, including a three-year price freeze, a 10% "early-bird" discount on stand supplies, new air fare savings, and a wider selection of nearby two- to four-star hotel accommodations.

However, despite debut appearances by Chicago and Illinois in separate booths, overall participation by North American entities is flat -- a stark contrast to 7% growth from Europe and 9% from both Asia and Africa.

Jeffery said U.S. destinations and suppliers "still seem to be feeling the impact of 9/11."

Budget cuts and a focus on domestic tourism have led some U.S. exhibitors to reduce or eliminate their presence.

"But having said that, a strong European market has a lot of North American destinations looking to come and regenerate business" from the continent, Jeffery added.

Plenty of, and for, agents

Another transtatlantic bright spot is travel agent attendance, particularly from the U.S., which remains steady even with ongoing shrinkage in the retailer sector.

Some 4,500 international agents are expected to attend World Travel Market; specific U.S. figures were not available, but Jeffery described registration as "encouraging."

"It's true there are fewer agents ... these days, and it's harder for those remaining to decide to leave their small businesses for even a day at World Travel Market," she said. "That's why we developed a program that's tailored to their needs and is very purposeful."

This year will see the launch of a program of sales training sessions for travel agents. Developed with major international suppliers and operators, it was designed to "help retailers get the most out of the event," said Jeffery.

The sessions, set for Nov. 13, will be run by 10 travel companies, including Sandals, Disney and Carnival Cruise Lines; pre-registration is available online at www.wtmlondon.com.

Organizers will also launch a new "Adventure Game" for agents the same day, designed to test retailers' knowledge of the fast-growing adventure-travel market. The top prize is a week-long adventure holiday from the Austrian Tourist Office.

According to Jeffery, the World Tourism Organization has found some 75% of adventure packages are booked directly with tour operators, usually because consumers have discovered retailers know little about this industry segment.

Another development of note at this year's World Travel Market is a vastly increased U.K. and Ireland presence on the show floor, evidenced by signs "branding" the entrance; a London pavilion; and the debut of a Youth Pavilion organized with the British Educational Travel Association.

"There's a stronger emphasis on the U.K. by World Travel Market itself because as the host country, Britain needs to display a presence as good as that of the many other countries," said Jeffery. Also, London's mayor is now striving "to bring tourism back to the city, using it as the key gateway to the rest of the U.K.," she said.

To help acquaint show attendees with London, each of the exhibitors and trade professionals at World Travel Market will receive a London Pass, worth $45 and good for free entry to more than 50 attractions. The London Pass will be available at the Visit London booth.

For more information, visit www.wtmlondon.com.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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