DOHA, Qatar -- When the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)
held its Summit last year in Vilamoura, Portugal, this elite club
of global travel industry CEOs did a great deal of public
Speaker after speaker, from American Express' Ken Chenault to
Marriott International Chairman and CEO J.W. "Bill" Marriott,
bemoaned the "perfect storm" that hit the industry: SARS,
terrorism, the war in Iraq and a depressed global economy.
That portion of the meeting that was open only to WTTC members
resembled, in 2003, a war council, with industry leader after
industry leader reporting he or she was bleeding red ink.
And what a difference a year can make.
Though elements of "the perfect storm" still linger to varying
degrees, the impact has lessened considerably.
This year's closed-door meeting was, according to sources in
attendance, "boring" and "administrative."
On the whole, the 2004 summit, held here this month, was a
feel-good event, with a parade of delegates from all sectors of the
industry reporting optimistic forecasts.
To the surprise of many, this year's summit, despite being held
in the small Middle East gulf state of Qatar, also drew
considerably more delegates than Vilamoura -- 600 as compared with
(Although council membership is limited to 100 -- of whom 60
showed up this year -- there is a large contingency of media and
representatives of organizations who have a keen interest in what
the council does, such as investment bankers, credit card companies
and insurance conglomerates.)
In a telling sign of how far the industry has come, talk of the
economic recovery and the importance of brands replaced war and
disease as the topics of choice.
Ian Davis, managing director of the consulting group McKinsey
& Co., said most CEOs he has spoken with are feeling quite
positive about the global economy and that there was no concern of
Davis also said he believed that the travel industry is ripe for
the emergence of additional very-large brands.
"The number of large companies in travel isn't commensurate with
the size of the industry. There are too few dominant brands," he
This suggests, Davis said, that the period of consolidation the
industry has been undergoing may continue for some time.
Positioning was the focus during a panel that included the head
of a young, successful brand and an established, successful brand,
and there was a stark contrast in the philosophy each brought to
Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder and chairman of EasyGroup (which
includes EasyJet), said his operating philosophy is "to assume
prices will go down.
If you think you can raise prices, someone like me will undercut
Richard North, CEO of the InterContinental Hotels Group, assumes
-- or at least hopes -- prices will go up. He countered that "as
occupancy comes back, price will come back. We've had price
deflation, and hotels need an adequate return."
Stelios, with a smile to North, said "there is no more exciting
sector than hotels," and that it is "the right time and right
place" to launch his "EasyHotel" concept. The first property, in
London, will open later this year, with prices starting at five
pounds (about $9) per night.
North, whose group includes the value chain Holiday Inn Express,
said he would be "unconcerned" about EasyHotel. "It's a different
customer. We provide good value for the price we charge."
(Perhaps in response to this exchange, the final summary
document of the conference, which focused primarily on
macro-economic and global policy issues, included this addendum:
"Budget airlines and hotels can co-exist with full-service airlines
and luxury hotels; the key is proper segmentation of the market and
an offer that provides value for money.")
WTTC President Jean-Claude Baumgarten, former CEO of Air France,
seemed pleased with the tenor of the business-focused topics that
dominated discussions this year and even suggested that travel and
tourism, far from being the victim of global unrest, is in a
position to further the cause of world stability.
"Travel and tourism is uniquely placed to encourage close
contact between peoples and cultures," he said.
But mindful of the atmosphere of last year's summit -and the
most easily identifiable threat to the return to darker days -- he
also noted that "safety and security measures need to be
continuously enhanced" and "attention must also be paid to
understanding and eliminating the root cause of terrorism."
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