Monday, October 02, 2006

Notes on a travel show: Do you fear global tourism?

The Incentive Travel & Motivation Expo (IT&ME) is over for another year. Those attendees who contain themselves to a Monday through Friday work week are now following up on the business cards, notes, emails and to-dos that collect during this busy week in Chicago. I took Thursday night to myself in Chicago, where I had dinner with two of my author friends—Melanie Lynn Hauser (CONFESSIONS OF SUPERMOM) and Renee Rosen (EVERY CROOKED POT). Friday morning I browsed through shops on the Magnificient Mile and then took a late afternoon flight home to California. It’s Monday and I’m back to work with renewed vigor.

While I was in Chicago the FAA relaxed its regulations on what airline passengers could carry on for flights. This, of course, led to numerous conversations on the safety and security of air travel. While most of the people I spoke with at the expo had no fears about air travel and security while in foreign locales, they did relate concerns from their clients who aren't in the industry. Destinations such as Dubai had a large pavilion on the floor and despite the negative focus on the Middle East, the Dubai buzz was as positive this year as last.

The NoteWorthy Group, the UK destination management company and event planning house that I represent, didn’t have a booth on the expo floor this year. We found that last year I made as many contacts out on the floor as our managaing director, Susie Worthy, did sitting at the booth. This year we decided not to take a booth; Susie would stay in London, and I would go out and meet people on the floor. The strategy worked, for I met dozens of dynamic people who wanted to hear more about TNG and why we’ve been selected by Conde Nast Traveler magazine as the Top Travel Specialist for the UK and Scotland for two years in a row. This distinction speaks for itself.

I think London is a perfect location for a hip, exciting, culturally enriching destination for an incentive program, conference, or educational summit. Dollars for dollars, or should I say dollars for pounds, it’s a destination that works hard to compete with such tropical locales as Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean. Surprisingly, this year the number one objective I heard about travel programs in the UK was not the unfavorable exchange rate and expense of the UK, but the length of time it takes to get to Europe as opposed to our neighbors to the south. And golf. Proximity to a golf course seems to be a top priority for travel planners choosing a destination for their programs.

Foot traffic through the expo appeared to be down again this year. We noticed it last year, but nearly every booth I visited remarked the same. One tourism official suggested that the amount of workshops and sessions cuts into the time delegates would otherwise spend in the expo. Yet others commented that the sessions were their first priority and time on the floor was spent targeted to specific vendors, rather than browsing around drinking up champagne under the British Pavilion, genuine Café du Monde latte at the New Orleans booth, or sake and sushi with Japan. A Mexico vendor corroborated this theory, saying she had fewer visitors, but the ones who stopped were decision makers looking to do real business.

Business dominates talk on the travel floor, but our business is about showing gratitude, inspiring goals, and giving people a good time. Many of the vendors once again outdid themselves with their evening galas thrown to promote their services and say thank you to their clients. VisitLondon threw a brilliant party atop the Sears Tower on Tuesday night. The Mexico Tourism Board’s dinner cruise on The Odyssey served food flown in from Merida. The Las Vegas party at Crobar was once again the hot ticket with this year’s “super hero” theme. A significant aspect of this business is working hard and earning the perks of performance. My pals Madelyn Marusa and Denise Dornfeld are two ladies who mean business on the expo floor, but know how to have fun at the end of the day.

So now I’m back to work, sorting through business cards, following up on contacts, returning emails, and looking forward to a productive season.

Readers of Ovations are an eclectic group of writers, travel industry professionals, blog-hoppers, and friends. If you read through this entire piece, how about answering a few questions. Tell me what global destinations you’d like to visit in the next couple of years, and why they appeal to you. And most importantly, in the political climate of the world today, do you fear air travel and global tourism?


Devon Ellington said...

That sounds wonderful.

Scotland is one of my two favorite places in the world. I haven't been back for a few years, but I hope to return soon. I love spending time in the UK. I trot around a LOT in the UK when I'm there, visiting small towns and every gosh darn small mueusm in someone's parlor I can find.

And I'm always on the prowl for secondhand bookshops.

I rent from the National Trust while I'm there and do daytrips -- have a "base camp" and go from there.

Destinations I most want to visit in the next few years are Vietnam -- the country's always held a fascination for me; Iceland, because of its beauty, history, and literacy rate; I want to take the cross-country train across Canada; and I want to visit Corsica, Sardinia, and Marseilles as research for a variety of pieces. And Hawaii because it's Hawaii.

Yes and no on fearing global terrorism. I rarely fly the major US airlines anymore. That started before 9/11, but, in my opinion, they've used 9/11 as an excuse to further cut services. I mean, come on, now they don't feed you or give you a blanket. AND they don't let you bring that stuff on board, so you have to purchase it from them. That's not taking care of our safety, that's scamming the consumer. I also won't fly an airline that's cut its pension plan. The workers earned those pensions, and you don't see the executives taking a pay cut. They get to keep all their beneifts for sitting on their fat, greedy asses and making life hell for the rest of us. I hope the major carriers go under -- the companies need to be completely restructured with fewer executives and actual customer service.

I work my ass off to earn the money to travel. I'm polite and cooperative with the travel professionals trying to do their jobs that I meet. In return, I expect courtesy and customer service without fail. And no excuses. When something goes wrong, fix it. Don't shrug and say, "there's nothing I can do" or "our policy is . . ." or "it's not my problem." If I've given you my money, damn right it's your problem. Fix it.

Ovation Leader said...

Hey, Devon. I feel you on the airline service cuts. My grandfather worked for the railroad for 50 years and when he retired he received a golden pass that gave him privilege to ride the rails anywhere in the country. By the time he'd retired though, passenger rail travel was all but gone and only Amtrak remained of the once glorious American passenger lines. I don't think I'm the only one who fears a similar fate for US airlines.

Loved your suggestion about the writer's retreat at Culzean Castle, by the way. Now that would be worth saving the money for.


Jack Pearson said...

I don't fear global tourism, I fear global terrorism. Well not fear, exactly, but when I travel, it's always on my mind.

Ovation Leader said...

A wise traveler is always aware of the world around him/her, be it beautiful, tragic, ancient, or dangerous--it's part of the explorer's psyche.

Helen Wang said...

Good to see your picture! To answer your question, I would like to go to Greece and Italy next year. Any advice?