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28 Jan, 2008

PATA “CEO Challenge” Turnout Target Hit by Stock Market Turmoil

The stock market turmoil of early last week has further diminished the chances of meeting the targetted turnout for the PATA climate change conference due to be held April 29-30, a number of Board members of the Pacific Asia Travel Association have warned.

Attending the ASEAN Tourism Forum here last week, board members from the regional countries said they are not surprised by the low number of registrations so far (as reported in this column last week) and warned the PATA management not to expect PATA members to bail the event out.

All the board members who were prepared to comment on the issue requested anonymity, fearing disruption of personal and professional relations with other board colleagues.

Supported by the Tourism Authority of Thailand which has pledged 5 million baht for the event, the “CEO Challenge” conference is claimed by PATA to be “the first opportunity for the entire travel and tourism industry in Asia Pacific to agree to practical solutions to confront climate change.”

However, said one board member, “Right now, I think CEOs have got more important things to worry about (a reference to last week’s stock market turmoil). I’m wondering how all these shocks are going to affect my business, and I’m sure so are many CEOs. Global warming is something in the future and pretty much low on my list of priorities.”

None of the interviewees had signed up for the conference. They said they were still unsure about it, especially at the asking price of US$1,390, an “early bird” fee for registrations received before February 16. ”Let those who supported it sign up first,” one commented.

Added another, “We had told them (the management) it would not work. The price is too high and there are too many events related to environmental issues all over the world.”

The claim that this is the “first opportunity” for the regional industry to agree to practical solutions is also doubtful, he said, citing the first Green Hotel Awards given out at the ASEAN Tourism Forum. “Meetings and conferences about global warming are being organised somewhere or the other nearly every week. In most cases, the information is posted on the internet and available for free.”

All the respondents admitted being caught on the horns of a major dilemma. As long standing PATA members, they said they do not want to see PATA’s financial situation being affected by a poor turnout, but neither do they want to pay the price for what they consider to be PATA management’s misjudgments.

One said PATA president and CEO Peter de Jong had stressed during the board meeting in Bali last September that the CEO challenge would bring in “movers and shakers” from outside the industry. He said Mr de Jong had also talked of bringing in “iconic speakers,” but so far, many of the speakers are either PATA members themselves or sponsors, or both.

“We also told them to poll the membership first to see who would be willing to come at that price. They did not listen.”

A board member remembered being told that PATA would need at least 400 paying delegates to break even. Now, he felt PATA management would have “no choice at this stage except to start lowering the registration fees.”

“They desperately need to find some way of pulling in the numbers. Cutting the registration fee may produce a large turnout but will mean low yield, like the profitless volume situation we face in daily business. It may not meet PATA’s financial targets but will look good for public relations and photo opportunities.”

“The real story of the event’s financial results will emerge later,” he said.

One PATA veteran said he was surprised to learn that no one from the PATA management or research/intelligence unit had attended the most important climate change conference of last year, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Bali last December.

Mr de Jong has declined to respond to questions about his handling of the event.

Meanwhile, another of PATA’s key revenue sources, the annual travel mart, is also set to face financial competition. The Mart is set for Hyderabad, India, between Sept 16-19 but regional exhibitors are citing the inaugural ITB Asia, due to be held in Singapore just a month later, as a strong competing alternative.

Industry executives say the proliferation of travel marts is requiring them to become more selective and attend only those where they can get best value for their time and money.

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