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The Race to become the ITB of Asia

Travel News Asia 6 February 2003

As we all know, the two major travel trade exhibitions and events are in Europe, the ITB in March, and secondly the WTM in November. This from an Asian standpoint cannot be a good thing when you consider the costs and time involved in attending either of these shows.

That is why it is of paramount importance that the travel industry within Asia supports 'its own' shows and exhibitions to entice the buyers, sellers and media to come to Asia rather than let them rely on our attendance at one of the European events.

Currently Asia has two 'generic' major travel trade exhibitions and events, the ATF in January, and the PATA Travel Mart now in October.

The ATF inaugurated in 1981, is now, many would argue, regarded as the largest of the two, especially in recent years, but it has one major problem and that is that only companies from ASEAN can exhibit. This exclusion of such important markets as China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand  and of course other countries interested in one of the fastest growing marketplaces in the world, has been one of the main factors in restricting the growth of the ATF.

The PATA Travel Mart inaugurated in 1978, also has a faithful following, but has had the more turbulent history of the two especially in recent times. Traditionally the PATA Travel Mart would move annually from country to country (as does the ATF) giving exhibitors, buyers, and media an ideal opportunity to meet with smaller more localised operators, learn and update themselves about different destinations and cultures, and quite simply add a little spice to our annual trade show pilgrimages. So what went wrong ? Some would say that the 1997 economic crisis which coincided with the move of the mart to Singapore for 10 consecutive years was the catalyst to lower attendance numbers, this mingled with strict entrance policies led to PATA's decision to manage the show themselves under a radically new format.

Of the two, PATA seem to be facing the hardest challenge as they need to reinforce the industries belief in the mart, and ensure that this years event which is to take place in a highly congested travel trade show period from October 1- 3 in Singapore (before commencing a regional rotation) is a success. Strangely it may well be one of the ATF's strengths that could benefit PATA, which is to say changes made within a single organisation such as PATA can be made and implemented much faster than when 10 different member countries need to be addressed, which is the case with ASEAN.

The ATF is slowly opening it doors and this years ATF included dialogue partners, China, Japan and Korea, but these countries only currently participate in dialogue rather than active participation during TRAVEX. It was also announced that ASEAN have signed a very important reciprocal agreement with the ITB that will see the ITB exhibit at the ATF 2004 and ASEAN to exhibit at the ITB 2003.

This agreement with the ITB (Messe Berlin) should not be underestimated and could well pave the way for more co-operation in the future, the MesseBerlin has been interested in Asia for quite some time, as was shown when the now failed International Tourism Asia (ITA), the product of a union between global exhibition organisers Miller Freeman and ITB Berlin organisers Messe Berlin, was launched in 1999 in Hong Kong .

The PATA Travel Mart knows this only too well, and are offering some very exciting packages to attract in buyers, going as far as offering money back guarantees for earlybird confirmations.  PATA Director of Business Development, Stephen Yong attended for the first time in its long history the ATF, to promote PATA as an association and of course their annual events. While PATA is faced with a difficult task, its greatest resource and major advantage is its large member base, combined with the fact that it has no geographical boundaries with which to restrict exhibitors.

Can both survive ? Definitely, but the real question here is which will emerge as the dominant show for the Asia markets ? which will become as valuable to the worlds tourism industry as the ITB ? The need is certainly there, and it may well be down to which show listens best to the needs of this ever changing market, and the speed in which it is able to implement needed changes.

What we in Asia should not forget though, is that in order for these, the shows closest to home, which bring in much needed business and foreign exchange, to succeed, they need our support, and perhaps given time, we may even have an ITB or similar in our own backyard.

See you at the PATA Travel Mart 2003 - Singapore October 1 - 3.

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