World Travel Market 2012, the leading global event for the travel industry, became the hub of the world's tourism trade this week in London when more than 100 ministers attended the sixth UNWTO (World Tourism Organization)&Ministers' Summit.
The event provoked strong debate leaving Hugh Robertson, the UK’s Minister for Sports and Tourism, facing criticism from the global tourism industry over the UK’s refusal to reconsider its air passenger duty tax regime.
Martin Craigs, CEO of the Pacific Association of Travel Agents, told him: “It is hypocritical of the UK to talk about freedom of expression when APD is clearly a tax on the freedom of movement.” Other ministers saw the tax as similar to a tariff on exports. Robertson responded by saying that he “absolutely understood the impact” of the tax but that the £2.8bn raised was important to the country in the current climate.
Meanwhile, the UNWTO used the event at WTM to celebrate the one billionth international tourism arrival this year and will promote the benefit of tourism on a global scale by asking travelers to commit online to one good act on their next trip. The UNWTO will also be present at Madrid Barajas airport on December 13, handing out flowers to arrivals on the symbolic arrival day of the one-billionth tourist.
In the separate Face to Face with Lord Adonis session, former Transport Minister Lord Adonis claimed both the Conservative and Labor parties will need to agree on increasing airport capacity in the UK if it is to go ahead. Adonis said whatever solution to the capacity issue is chosen by the government will need cross-party support in order to attract private funding and could take until the end of the decade before it gets under way. Lord Adonis added his own personal preference was for a third runway at Heathrow, ahead of the proposed Thames estuary airport or connecting Heathrow and Gatwick with a high-speed rail link.
Elsewhere, The Airlines Out of Africa session heard that the continent needs more home-grown aviation links from both low-cost and traditional airlines to offset an imbalance in its market. The panel said the vast majority of international services to the continent were from non-African carriers.
Ethiopian Airlines’ Chief Executive Tewolde Gebremariam added the market share of African carriers was a disproportionately small at 18%. He said, “We have to work together to seize our fair share; it has to be 50/50 at least.” He argued that Middle East carriers had been allowed to take advantage of access to individual countries, adding, “African air space is more open to non-African carriers than to African airlines.”
The WTM stand awards were announced, too, with Most Innovative Stand Within the Technology Region won by Pure360 (TT350), Best Stand Personnel given to Bye Bye (ME101), Best Stand Feature going to Honduras (LA560), Best Stand for Doing Business awarded to Peru (LA300), and Best Stand Design to Hungary (EM350). Reed Travel Exhibitions Chairman World Travel Market Fiona Jeffery said, “Again this year, the stands demonstrate a wide range of creative ideas as tourist boards and travel businesses aim to showcase their wares.”
Elsewhere, delegates heard the double-dip recession has failed to dent the British public's appetite for holidays. Speaking at Travel Weekly's Insight Report launch, Tom Costley, the Group Director of TNS Research International, said four in ten Brits regard an annual holiday as an essential purchase. He added this is only a little bit down to before 2008 when the world's economy first experienced the troubles still haunting it today. He added: “The level is a bit down slightly. Despite everything that's happened in the last three or four years, there's still a huge group of people in the UK who regard holidays as essential.”
Meanwhile in the Travel Weekly Cruise debate, attendees heard the cruise industry has fared “relatively” well despite a year battling the effects of the economic downturn, the Costa Concordia tragedy, and the continuing impact of the Arab Spring. The comment was made by Mickey Arison, Chairman and Chief Executive of Carnival Corp, who was speaking by video link from his headquarters in Miami. He added: “It has been a challenging year for us: challenges such as Costa Concordia, we have also had continuing issues in the Arab countries and economic issues. The industry has fared relatively well. We continue to be profitable. We still have a bright future.” Also on the panel were David Dingle, Carnival UK Chief Executive, and Michael Tamm, Costa Group Chief Executive, and was moderated by Lucy Huxley, Travel Weekly Group Editor-in-Chief.
WTM 2012 also saw the introduction of the lunch of online calculator onlineroicaluclator.com which allows PR companies and travel firms to calculate the value of blog posts. It was developed by Melvin Bocher, founder of the Traveldudes blog, and Keith Jenkins, founder of the Velvet Escape luxury travel blog, and welcomed by PR companies. In addition Oliver Gradwell, founder of Travel Bloggers Unite, told the session that a new directory of travel bloggers will be published in January 2013, featuring about 250 bloggers.
Nor was it the only technology being promoted at the show. A new service aiming to tackle the problem of sky-high roaming charges, Globalgig, was being promoted. It allows travelers to bypass high international roaming charges by re-routing calls between networks over the Internet. The small device, no bigger than a mobile phone itself, also mean business travelers or holidaymakers can avoid slow speeds, inconvenient work-arounds, or data security risks.
Also making its debut was a hi-tech way for holidaymakers to pay via fingerprints – rather than worry about carrying cash and cards on the beach or by the pool. PayTouch is a futuristic payment service using biometrics – once customers have registered their details, they can use their fingerprints to pay for anything, including hotel services, drinks, petrol, and access to nightclub VIP areas. The service is free for holidaymakers, and businesses linked to the PayTouch network can use it to offer exclusive advantages to users, such as discounts, prizes, private access, and promotions.