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Travel and tourism is turning the corner WTM Chairman Fiona Jeffery opens WTM 2010 with positive message for the industry

Baroness Morris, chairman of World Travel Market’s Advisory Council, Abu Dhabi World Travel Markets Premier Partner for 2010, distinguished guests and friends.

There’s something quite magical about Stonehenge, Britain’s most visited ancient stone rings that are thought to date back to 4000 years BC.

No one knows exactly what they are for.

Some say these magnificent but mysterious stones were for religious rituals and festivals; others, that the stones were used to mark out chiefdoms.

But what perhaps is the most extraordinary factor of all is that a newly discovered burial site points to the fact that this remarkable prehistoric monument is the earliest tourism attraction the world has ever seen!

This summer, remains have been found of what geologists believe are wealthy visitors to Stonehenge who travelled across land and sea from Spain, Italy, Greece or France to see the towering stones for themselves in all their amazing Bronze Age glory.

The news caught my eye because I ask you… How many global industries can claim such an impressive statistic or trace its early beginnings to literally aeons ago?

How many other global industries, for that matter, can claim to penetrate so many lives and influence so much of our modern day thinking, lifestyle and global economy?

I mention this because I recognise that working in international travel and tourism at the moment is certainly no holiday for many of us!

I’ll not sweep under the carpet the problems that parts of the industry have encountered in recent times.

Terrorism, the fear of terrorism, volcanic ash, climate change, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, government austerity measures, belt tightening by consumers, tax hikes, industrial action, the fragile confidence of travellers plus the worst global economic downturn in living memory have left an indelible mark upon us all.

In the UK, for example, the cost of flying is due to go up yet again this month with a rise in the harmful and, in my opinion, utterly wrong Air Passenger Duty – APD as its known – which has ballooned by an astonishing 400% since it was first introduced in 1994.

As you can imagine, the UK industry is up in arms about yet another rise – but this also has implications for many other destinations worldwide.

I say to the UK government, please consider getting rid of this damaging tax in the same way that its Spanish, Greek and Dutch counterparts have thought fit to do so.

Senior executives in the industry have called it a serious backward step for the business of tourism because of its inevitable knock-on effect on jobs, profits and our contribution towards this country’s GDP – and I can only agree.

Many travel businesses have suffered across the world because of the board spread of austerity measures introduced by some governments and the resulting impact of job losses across the industry.

But the amazing, empowering dynamic of this incredible industry of ours, is its global resilience. It’s ability to bounce back, ride the storms; to be innovative and forward thinking; to exercise flexibility and responsiveness, to really listen to consumers – and to the world – about what is needed and where.

While on the whole high-end brands remain resilient, mid-priced travel products are being ignored by consumers who prefer to switch to other better value offerings – and this trend seems set to continue.

There is, however a flicker of hope from the financial experts – in particular about Europe, which has been significantly hit in recent times.

After two years of frugality and with saving rates showing the very first glimmers of possible improvement in the future, they believe that consumers will continue to spend on travel and leisure but that those offering true value for money will undoubtedly benefit.

Operators and destinations, for their part, have reacted positively by creating appealing travel offers in order to encourage greater spending in the coming years.

As we reflect on the week ahead, the extensive business conducted, the opinions exchanged and the friendships cemented between people from totally different cultural and religious backgrounds, I hope that in some small way World Travel Market can help.

Over the past 31 years, I’m proud that World Travel Market has been able to build a reputation as a can-do organisation; not just another exhibition; but a pro-active, ‘happening’ business forum for the international industry.

A place to discuss and exchange opinions – sometimes quite controversial views and ideas – and to learn more about the latest trends, the newest developments and emerging markets.

This week is no exception.

We’ve brought together some of the most respected experts and industry leaders from around the world to help you excel in business.

We’ve confronted the issues and aim to analyse the problems. Sometimes you’ll find us very direct and, you might think, openly challenging, but it’s done with one objective in mind – the future success of you, your colleagues and your businesses.

I hope you’ll take advantage of some of these business opportunities, from networking sessions to travel technology and responsible tourism seminars; from the findings of specially commissioned, up-to-the-minute presentations to keynote debates and speeches from some of the best business brains inside and outside the industry.

This afternoon we tackle head-on the complicated questions over sports tourism.  Following our ‘full-house’ session at World Travel Market on the same subject last year, the industry is beginning to discuss more about sports tourism and its status as a fast growing sector, however there are still many difficulties and dilemmas that are simply not being addressed.

The current focus is frequently on the economic drivers of sports tourism such as creating a sudden rise in jobs, filling hotel rooms and the possible advantages of several weeks of regional or global media exposure for the destination and tourism generally.

In addition to the lack of knowledge about how buyers and sellers can get involved in sports tourism at all levels, there’s a misplaced industry view about how to make considerable, high yield profit with relative ease.

Sports tourism can be a brilliant force for good, but it does not necessarily mean an easily gained surge of income and prosperity for the host destination.

Tomorrow, in association with the UNWTO, we bring the public and private sectors together in a highly prestigious Ministers Summit, when more than 100 tourism ministers, senior aides and captains of industry will grapple with the task of shaping a stronger travel and tourism industry.

The summit, will focus on raising the political and economic recognition of tourism, looking at ways of creating a more competitive business environment, that stimulates innovation, investment and creates sustainable growth.

Wednesday sees the fourth WTM World Responsible Tourism Day again in association with the UNWTO – and what a long way this issue has come since World Travel Market first tentatively introduced the subject some 17 years ago!

Responsible tourism is not just a nice thing to do. It’s become essential to every boardroom, to every business strategy. We cannot ignore it– and if we do, it’s at our peril.

The aim of WTM World Responsible Tourism Day is to educate and inspire – but it’s also to persuade people not only to talk, but to adopt positive year-round action.

For too long, this subject was just a’ talking shop’ where the industry merely paid lip service.

But the barometer is beginning to shift and companies, destinations, operators, individuals – and governments too – are starting to recognise that no one is immune to this.

Travel and tourism, I’m glad to say, is turning the corner and there’s much exceptional work being carried out by the industry in all aspects of responsible tourism.

You’ve only to look at WTM World Responsible Tourism Day’s colour magazine Spotlight, which you’ll have found on your seats, to read about the kind of extraordinary and dedicated people who are working to maintain a caring, sensitive and sustainable world to hand on to future industry generations.

On Thursday, there’s a major new business feature when World Travel Market introduces WTM Business Day with business advice clinics and workshops. We’re particularly delighted that Lord Digby Jones, one of the world’s most energetic and committed business speakers will talk about how struggling small and medium sized businesses, can survive – and flourish – in this tough climate. He’ll be joined by a panel of respected business leaders.

Lord Jones was Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry for six years. He was knighted in 2005 for his service to business and made a Life Peer in 2007.  He became the first and only director-general to serve a second consecutive term as the Director-Gerenal of the CBI.

On leaving the CBI, Lord Jones took up the unpaid role of UK Skills Envoy before he become Lord Jones when he accepted the role of Minister of State for UK Trade & Investment.

Today, he is a roving business ambassador, travelling the world to help businesses improve their structures and profit margins.

Like me, I know you share a passion for the industry and I think you’ll agree that we’re privileged to be part of travel and tourism, one of the world’s largest and surely the most exciting industries in the world, employing a staggering 235 million people worldwide and generating nearly ten per cent of global GDP.

And when one region in the world is finding the marketplace particularly tough going, others are expanding and developing, leading the way to brave new horizons.

There’s much to be encouraged by.
Much to seize upon and to use for ours and the industry’s benefit.

The travel and tourism industry has never buckled or weakened – even in the teeth of trying and often turbulent times.

We’ve shown in the past that the industry has backbone, professionalism, creativity and immense skill.

But businesses need Government help, support and investment. In some cases legislation needs a sanity check.

Above all, travel and tourism needs greater universal recognition for what it is – a supreme economic driver that can lift people out of poverty, providing jobs and prosperity that will fuel the future.

And it’s the future that I want us to look to now.

It was a cold, damp airfield north of Seattle, USA at the end of last year that we first glimpsed the revolutionary new 787 Dreamliner passenger aircraft as it set off on its very first test flight, ushering in a revolutionary new era for travel and tourism.

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TravelDailyNews Asia-Pacific editorial team has an experience of over 35 years in B2B travel journalism as well as in tourism & hospitality marketing and communications.