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Travel industry learns the hard way in school of tough knocks

At a Pacific Asia Travel Mart (PATA) pre-Mart seminar in Singapore, attendees heard how the travel industry…

At a Pacific Asia Travel Mart (PATA) pre-Mart seminar in Singapore, attendees heard how the travel industry had radically changed in the last few years with the rate of change speeding up due to the advent of regional conflicts, SARS and related factors such as increased consumer Internet confidence and the growth of low-cost carriers.

Delegates at the day-long seminar entitled Asia Pacific Tourism: We`re Back! heard how Asia Pacific`s year-to-date figures had got off to a poor start. PATA Managing Director-Strategic Intelligence Centre told attendees that international travel arrivals to 28 destinations* in the Asia Pacific region were down almost 14 percent this year compared to same period 2002.

Mr. Koldowski attributed the downturn to the effects of terrorism in Bali, war in Iraq, the outbreak of atypical pneumonia (SARS) and a generally soft world economy. Nevertheless, the setbacks had galvanised the industry. Since SARS, travel and tourism has come of age, he said. It`s now treated as a real business – no longer the champagne and fluff industry as its detractors used to call it.

Asia Pacific travel industry sellers and buyers from around the world heard many of the 16 travel industry executives at the seminar say that it was imperative for the industry to speak with one voice and become more savvy when dealing with consumer media because it was an industry capable of moulding public perception with drastic effects.

PATA Managing Director-Europe, Ms. Marion Buttler, said: If consumer confidence is not there, even the cheapest rates won`t drive people to travel because it`s a question of perception – and the quality of media reporting is crucial.

Sellers at the 26th PATA Travel Mart, which runs October 1-3 in the city state, are looking increasingly to China (PRC) as an economic saviour. Ms. Jingrong Jiang, Assistant Manager, Sales & Marketing for Shanghai China International Travel Service, told attendees to expect more exponential growth from the mainland as state-imposed travel restrictions continue to ease. She said visa processes were becoming easier as China expanded its list of countries with approved destination status (ASD). There are currently 28 overseas destinations with ASD.

Ms. Jiang cited the increase in cash (up from US$2,000 to US$3,000) per person, per trip that the China (PRC) government now allows its citizens to take abroad. She added that the war in Iraq had had no effect on Chinese outbound compared to SARS.

Travel industry parameters have changed as a result of SARS, said Mr. Koldowski. Crisis has given us the opportunity to look at structural priorities. Intra-regional travel has become increasingly important as has domestic travel – which keeps the plant running in times of crisis.

(* The 28 destinations accounted for more than 85 percent of total international arrivals to the Asia Pacific region during 2002. Of the 35 Asia Pacific destinations that regularly report inbound arrivals data to the Pacific Asia Travel Association`s (PATA) Strategic Intelligence Centre (SIC), these 28 had reported up to the end of June 2003. They included Singapore, Canada, Hong Kong, China (PRC) and Vietnam, all of which were most affected by atypical pneumonia.)

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