Day 1 – The travel industry finally meets face-to-face again

Day 1 – The travel industry finally meets face-to-face again

WTM London physical show is finally back!

The WTM London opening officially took place with HE Ahmed Al Khateeb, Minister of Tourism in Saudi Arabia; Fahd Hammidaddin, Chief Executive Officer of Saudi Tourism Authority; Hugh Jones named CEO at RX Global and Princess Haifa AI Saud, Assistant Minister of Tourism in Saudi Arabia.

The first day of the show welcomed exhibitors from more than 100 countries and regions, more than 6,000 pre-registered buyers from 142 countries and travel professionals from all over the world.

The largest gathering of travel industry professionals in the world since the pandemic began is the perfect platform for recovery in 2022.The show featured numerous business meetings, insightful conferences and press conferences.

Responsible tourism was the key theme for the day. As the leading global event for the travel industry, WTM London has championed the cause of responsible tourism and the annual WTM Responsible Tourism Awards celebrated the best of travel across categories – winners list will be released this morning.

WTM Industry Report

Younger people are increasingly turning to travel agents to book holidays because of the confusion and problems seen during the pandemic, according to the WTM Industry Report.

Its survey of 1,000 consumers found 22% of those aged 35-44 said they were more likely to use an agent, along with 21% of those aged 22-24 and 20% of those aged 18 to 21.

Respected travel journalist Simon Calder presented these and many other positive findings from WTM’s Industry Report on the first day of the event.

The report also found that holidaymakers are four times as likely to book a package than a sharing-economy stay for next year.

Almost a third (32%) of those thinking about an overseas holiday in 2022 are most likely to book a package holiday, compared to 8% who will book through a sharing economy site, such as Airbnb.

Calder told delegates: “I am getting complaints every day from people who have put together a trip themselves or by using one of the less well-regarded online travel agencies.

“Using a package company is better and using a live travel agent means they will not leave you stranded. All the confusion is pushing people towards using travel agents.”

When consumers were asked about where they would like to go, the top hotspot was Spain, followed by other traditional European favourites such as France, Italy and Greece, and the US – which will reopen to British holidaymakers on November 8 after being off limits since March 2020.

The report also revealed that most of the 700 trade professionals quizzed for the report are expecting 2022 sales to match or beat 2019.

Furthermore, nearly 60% of travel executives believe sustainability has become the industry’s top priority.

Calder also held a panel discussion to debate issues raised by the research.

John Strickland, WTM’s aviation expert, said low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Wizz Air were seeing better traffic figures but airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which rely on long-haul and transatlantic routes, were taking longer to recover.

He cited a forecast from IATA which said traffic will not be back to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

Also, he does not think business travel will bounce back in the way that the markets have done so for leisure and visiting friends and relatives.

However, Tracey Halliwell, Director of Tourism, Conventions & Major Events at London & Partners, said there is a “strong” pipeline for business tourism and major events in the capital.

“I am eternally optimistic that London will return to its exalted status,” she said.

Leisure travel will outweigh any shortfall in business tourism because there will be more “bleisure”, which will see people adding holiday elements to their work trips, added Halliwell.

Harold Goodwin, WTM’s responsible tourism expert, said the aviation sector will need to be regulated, unless it cuts its own carbon footprint, he warned.

As other sectors decarbonise, global aviation will become a larger proportion of emissions, rising to about 24% by 2050 if current trends continue.

Greece – Press Conference

UK operators ramp up capacity for Greece in 2022

UK tour operators are adding flights and holidays across Greece in 2022 and 2023 to cater for recovering levels of demand from British holidaymakers.

The Greek National Tourism Organisation showcased some of the key developments during its press conference on the first day of WTM London on 1 November.

Jet2.com and its sister brand Jet2CityBreaks will operate flights and city breaks to Athens for the first time – with operations starting in April 2022 from three of the company’s UK bases:  Birmingham, Manchester and Stansted airports.

And in 2023, Jet2.com and sister brand Jet2holidays will offer 200 weekly flights to Greek destinations in 2023.

The UK’s largest travel company, TUI, has launched “workcation” travel packages at selected destinations in Greece to cater for demand from digital nomads.

Independent operators are also adding new destinations for 2022 – Sunvil has added the island of Lesvos; Planet Holidays has introduced the islands of Skyros and Koufonisia; and Seafarer Holidays will launch a ‘Villa Flotilla’ offer, combining a week of private yacht charter within a flotilla with a stay in a private villa with a pool for the second week.

Furthermore, UK tour operators are starting to offer train travel to and within Greece, as a more sustainable alternative to flights.

Sunvil offers train travel from St Pancras to some of the Ionian Islands via the Alps and Milan; Tailor Made Rail offers trips via ancient cities in Italy or through the Balkans; and Great Rail Journeys offers itineraries within Greece from Athens to the heights of Olympia.

The GNTO also highlighted a host of new hotels that have recently opened in the country, including the Lighthouse Hotel in central Athens; Asterion Suites and Spa in western Crete; and Angsana Corfu, the first Banyan Tree resort in Europe.

Cultural developments showcased by the GNTO include a new archaeological museum due to open in Chania, Crete, and the reopening earlier this year of the National Gallery in Athens – one of Greece’s largest art museums, which has undergone a €59 million expansion and refurbishment.

Finally, the GNTO announced that Greece has nominated three areas – Soufli, Western Samos and Alonissos – for the World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) “Best Tourism Villages” initiative.

The project, which will select the villages at the end of November, will recognise small, rural communities that are harnessing the power of tourism to provide opportunities to safeguard communities by promoting and preserving local traditions, cultural heritage and sustainable development.

International Tourism & Investment Conference (ITIC) Summit

Investments in training people will be key to the recovery of travel and tourism around the world.

That was the message to delegates at the Invest, Finance and Restart Summit, held by the International Tourism & Investment Conference (ITIC) at WTM London.

Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, said many skilled workers in tourism have moved to other sectors because of the devastating impact of the pandemic.

He said airlines, for example, are finding it hard to ramp up capacity to cope with the demand because many pilots, cabin crew and ground-handlers have left travel.

“Skills have gone elsewhere; specialised skills will take a long time to build up again,” he told ITIC delegates at WTM London.

“There will be a slower recovery because of the human factor.”

Ghaith Al Ghaith, Chief Executive at flydubai, said the recovery was also being affected by some countries not opening up their borders to international travellers.

“We have to take off restrictions or it will delay the recovery,” he said.

Dr Taleb Rifai, ITIC Chairman ITIC and former Secretary General at the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), said destinations had learned valuable lessons during the pandemic about the value of international and domestic tourism to their economies.

He hailed Egypt, Jordan and Jamaica as good examples of destinations that were investing in tourism to take advantage of opportunities after the Covid crisis.

Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary at Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife Kenya, said tourism accounted for 9% of the Kenyan GDP.

It had been the second most important sector in the country before Covid struck, after agriculture, but was now the fourth, as manufacturing and construction had overtaken it.

However, he said there will be growth in 2022 and it will recover fully by 2023-24.

He agreed that investment in people and education was as important as investing in infrastructure and hotels.

“Human resources are key,” he said.

Amr El-Kady, CEO at the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board, said his country had continued to invest in tourism during the pandemic.

It has launched a new air service between Luxor and the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh to enable tourists to have two-centre holidays combining beach breaks with trips to the ancient sites of Egypt.

Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez, Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, also said his country continued to invest in tourism products and attractions during the pandemic.

There is a new focus on outdoor and nature offerings to cater for post-pandemic trends among travellers, he added.

How to Attract Chinese Visitors during and post Covid-19

Hidden gems, self-drive and health, spa & wellness holidays are the key emerging new travel trends among Chinese leisure clients, WTM delegates heard during the session How to Attract Chinese Visitors during and post Covid-19, Marcus Lee, CEO of China Travel Online, said China’s tourism industry has already rebounded from the pandemic.

During the 2020 May labour holiday in China, 115 million tourists went overseas.

The following year, the 2021 May labour holiday saw 230 million trips, with Chinese visitors spending almost $18 billion US. Mr Lee said Chinese tourists are prepared to travel abroad for desert experiences, historical sites, night-time experiences, nature, national parks and shopping.

How Can the Travel and Tourism Industry Contribute More to Conservation?

Travel companies will be obliged to commit to doing more towards conservation and nature in the future through government legislation.

Justin Francis, Co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel, said: “We will see more and more regulation, so if you are a travel company, you had better get on with it now because you will be forced to otherwise.”

The session, called How Can the Travel and Tourism Industry Contribute More to Conservation, heard from a South African nature reserve owner who said the business now charges guests a conservation levy. Michael Lutzeyer, owner of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve said:

“We have a conservation levy so guests can contribute and we tell them where the money is going to.”

Building Back Better for Destination Resilience

During a session looking at Building Back Better for Destination Resilience, the boss of Visit Cornwall – one of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations – joked he wanted to change the tourist board’s name to “Don’t Visit Cornwall”, after it struggled to cope with the huge influx of visitors this summer.

Visit Cornwall CEO and Marketing Director Malcolm Bell did say, however, that marketing money would no longer be spent on encouraging people to visit during the summer. “We will concentrate all efforts on marketing Cornwall in winter. Not the shoulders, but in the winter,” he told delegates.

Ras Al Khaimah Press Conference

Ras Al Khaimah has unveiled a new marketing drive, using its coastal, mountain and desert landscapes to promote its tourism products around the world.

Raki Phillips, Chief Executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, outlined the strategy at WTM London – and highlighted how the emirate has emerged faster than other destinations from the pandemic and continued to invest in tourism developments.

He said tourism accounts for 12% of the emirate’s economy and 96% of the population has received two doses of Covid-19 vaccinations.

“We were also the first global destination to offer free Covid-19 PCR testing to all international visitors before departure, reducing holiday costs,” he said.

“And in May we announced £100 million investments in sustainable attractions.”

The UAE’s northernmost emirate is promoting its tourism offering with the new ‘Rakashida’ logo, which is inspired by the ‘kashida’ from Arabic calligraphy – a line that connects letters to form a word, and reflects the destination’s mountains, deserts and beaches.

The tourism board showcased its promotional videos which feature new attractions such as paragliding from the United Arab Emirates’ highest peak – Jebel Jais – plus diving for scallops at the UAE’s first scallop farm, learning desert survival skills at the Bear Grylls Survival Academy and luxury glamping.

New resorts include the Radisson Resort Marjan island, Hampton Marjan Island, Mangrove Hotel, InterContinental Mina Al Arab, Anantara Mina Al Arab and the Movenpick Resort Marjan Island.

“Sustainability is a huge factor – it is not just a buzz word,” Phillips told WTM delegates.

“We are taking it to a destination level.”

As part of its ongoing sustainability efforts, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority works with EarthCheck, the global environmental experts, to co-create and implement sustainable practices that address key sustainability and climate change issues facing the tourism industry.

Thailand Press Conference

Thailand has reopened to fully vaccinated tourists from more than 60 low-risk nations, including the UK.

Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, announced at WTM London that, from Monday 1 November, eligible visitors will be able to travel to the country without having to quarantine as part of the country’s relaxation of its Covid-19 travel rules.

The minister also told delegates that the country has built confidence among international holidaymakers thanks to its “Phuket sandbox” strategy, which has enabled visitors to travel to the island safely since July.

Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, Deputy Governor for Marketing Communications at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, told trade professionals at WTM London that almost 60,000 tourists visited Phuket thanks to its “sandbox” policy.

The top market was the US, followed by Israel and then the UK.

Furthermore, Thailand has launched a new publicity campaign for 2022 with the slogan ‘Amazing New Chapters’, building on the lessons learned from the Phuket policy.

Different “chapters” in the campaign next year will highlight various aspects of holidays in Thailand, such as workations, romance and responsible tourism.

Before the pandemic, Thailand attracted 14 million overseas visitors annually, he said.

Next year it hopes to welcome 13 million foreign tourists, who will generate almost £18 billion in revenue.

– Ends –

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