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27 Sep, 2004

PATA Mart Springs Back to Life After Shift to Bangkok

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Once written off as moribund, the annual travel mart of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) bounced back to life last week with a hugely successful event that was relocated to Bangkok after six largely unproductive years in Singapore.

A straw poll among several sellers gave the mart a rating of 7 to 8 on a scale of 1-10, as against the 4 to 5 rating it scored in Singapore last year.

Tourism Authority of Thailand Deputy Governor for Marketing Mrs Phornsiri Manoharn hailed the event as a further upgrading of relations between PATA and Thailand.

She noted that in 1996, the last time a PATA annual conference was held in Thailand, the TAT had worked with PATA, the UN Economic Social Commission for Asia-Pacific and the Asian Development Bank to launch the Mekong Tourism Forum, an event that has significantly raised the global tourism profile of the Mekong region.

In 1998, PATA moved its entire HQ to Bangkok, and this year brought the mart here. In April 2006, the annual conference will again be held here.

However, the mart will not remain fixed here but move around the Asia-Pacific annually, to Kuala Lumpur in 2005 and Hong Kong in 2006. As both are next-door destinations, the event will continue to generate visitors to Thailand in the form of pre- and post-conference tours.

The travel mart, a trade-only event, and the annual conference are PATA’s biggest money-spinners, after membership dues. Delegates attributed the success of last week’s Bangkok event to a number of factors.

Firstly, the wider geopolitical and travel environment is generally stable, with nothing like the 2003 Iraq war and SARS crisis dampening the travel mood.

Secondly, the change of location attracted buyers and sellers, many of whom were bored with Singapore. A large number of US travel agents heading for the American Society of Travel Agents annual convention in Hong Kong on Sept 28 also came down for the mart.

Thirdly, the programme content was upgraded to feature briefing sessions on the outbound travel potential of India, China and the Middle East, which along with Russia, are seen as promising new future generators of tourism.

A final report presented to the PATA board last Saturday showed a tally of 345 buyers (+18.9% over 2003) from 309 organisations and 44 countries. Seller organisations totalled 338 and 720 delegates, as against 450 delegates in 2003.

“Bangkok is an extremely attractive, magnetic destination that has really brought a great number of people to the event,” said PATA CEO Peter de Jong. “The event has resumed its integrity and its pre-eminent position on the list of international trade fairs.”

Other signs of shifting source-markets included a listing of nine buyers each from China and Russia, two each from Ukraine, Vietnam and Brazil, and one each from Estonia, Chile, Poland and Romania. The delegate manual listed only three French buyers and only 19 German buyers, once kings of the road.

Mr Navendu Mathur, head, sales and marketing, of The Leela hotel in Mumbai said he thought the PATA mart was a better show than the ITB Berlin because it allowed sellers to see the buyer for an pre-determined, uninterrupted 15-minute appointment rather than the unstructured, free-for-all style that dominates the global trade shows.

His counterpart at Amari Hotels and Resorts in Thailand, Mr Duncan Webb, said that with the increased number of buyers from India and the region at large, he thought the PATA Mart had finally taken on a “real Asian feel.”

The delegate manual had 25 buyer companies listed for India, the largest contingent ever at a PATA mart, and 44 seller companies, the second largest after Thailand, which fielded a mammoth 140 companies.

The Indians announced plans to refocus their marketing attention towards the Asia-Pacific, especially to attract the legions of Buddhist pilgrims in East and Southeast Asia heading for the religious holy spots in the state of Bihar.

Cambodia’s new Tourism Minister Lay Prohas spoke along similar lines. Attending for the first time since his appointment last July, he unveiled a four-point plan to develop tourism with a focus on “peace, tranquility and soul-searching” based on the famous Angkor Wat complex and hundreds of other temples nationwide.

The Nepalese, also positioning themselves in religious terms as the birthplace of the Lord Buddha and the Hindu deity Sita, sought to address safety concerns, noting that no visitors had been harmed by Maoist terrorists.

Said Mr Prabhu Bahadur Pandey, chairman, PATA Nepal chapter, “The terrorists have never targeted the tourist areas. Their mission is different. It has nothing to do with economic ‘paralysation’ (sic). That is not what they are looking at. They are looking to come to power in future. If they are going to target tourists and the poor, how are they going to come power in the first place?”

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