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8 Oct, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Incoming PATA CEO Plans to Restore the Balance, Boost Focus & Efficiency

Bangkok – Just 10 months after being appointed Chief Operations Officer of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, Mario Hardy is to take over as Chief Executive Officer, effective Nov 1. In an exclusive interview, his first since the official announcement, he has pledged to maintain the original agenda of creating a more focussed, results-oriented organisation, albeit with a lower international profile.

mario hardy photo

Mario Hardy

“There’s going to be substantial reduction in foreign travel until the in-house challenges are sorted out,” he said. “We have quite a few, as you know. In just the last few days alone I have received invitations to speak at six international conferences of which I have accepted only one. Personally, I am sad to see (outgoing CEO) Martin (Craigs) leave because we had just begun to complement each other. Martin did a great job in raising the public profile of PATA.”

Noting that he will become effectively both CEO and COO, Mr. Hardy, 49, outlined a comprehensive agenda of measures to better balance the external marketing and internal management of the association, ensure that it has both the financial and staffing resources to deliver on the membership-benefit promises, and make PATA events focussed, relevant and productive.

“Most people go to international travel shows and events for three reasons, to learn, network and socialise. That is not rocket science. If opportunities to do all of the above can be offered in equal measure and within reasonable time frame, people will come,” he said.

In one indicator of the kind of upcoming changes, Mr. Hardy said that for the first time, the next Executive Board meeting in December 2014 will be convened in a virtual online format over a fixed one-hour timeframe, with key agenda items and details sorted out in advance. This will save the EB members time and expense travelling to Bangkok or, in future, to other destinations specifically for such meetings, and expedite clearance of various matters requiring EB approval.

Other activities planned for the rest of this year:

  • A new pata.org website is to be launched in November using a more flexible and scaleable open source platform. Content will also become more relevant and consistent.
  • A by-invitation-only event on Digital Marketing with TripAdvisor is to be held in November in collaboration with e-Tourism Frontier.
  • A new digital magazine, PATA Conversations, is to be launched to replace the defunct print publication, Compass. PATA Conversations will feature video interviews and engaging content highlighting key tourism trends and feature destinations, partners and members (http://www.pataconversations.com) beta version. The other publication of the Strategic Intelligence Centre, Issues and Trends, is to be converted into a biannual publication.

Next year will be busy with four core events: an Adventure Travel Mart in Bhutan in February; the AGM and Annual Travel Summit in Leshan, China in April; the Travel Mart in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), India, in September; and another event on the theme of Adventure Travel in Legaspi in November. In addition, two PATA Academy events are to be held in June and December.

Mr. Hardy said that the PTM will follow a similar format as that implemented successfully at last September’s PTM in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with a number of sponsored side-events to accompany the main trade show.

The theme of the Leshan travel summit will be Culture and Heritage. “Leshan is a beautiful city,” Mr Hardy said. “Not too many people have heard of it. I was there just a few weeks ago, and I was amazed. It will open up an entirely new destination in China.”

Major organisational changes are planned for the 2015 PATA Travel Summit. All the various events will be kept much more tighter and focused. The AGM will be cut down from 3 to 2 hours. The larger board meeting will also be shortened to remove the presentations by the partners and members selling their products and services. These will be relocated to a separate event, the PATA Marketplace, which can be attended by whoever wants to.

Said Mr. Hardy, “The organisations normally presenting at committee meetings differs each time. They could be both members and/or partners. A separate forum for them to present will give them access to a larger audience and at the same time reduce the amount of time required to manage the committees until such a time when we can reform the committees.”

Mr. Hardy said that ultimate goal is to ensure that PATA is back on financial even-keel next year.

He said, “The financial situation is still in not good shape, which is public knowledge, but if the staff can be provided with a focus to make sure that all the 2015 events produce results, we will be back in shape by the end of next year.”

He added, “The Travel Mart is no longer generating the same kind of revenues as in the PATA heydays. There was no annual travel conference this year, and membership has been up and down. New members come in and others leave but it averages out. Most of the membership loss this year has come because we cleaned out the membership list and removed those who had been in arrears.”

He said he would like to get back to making PATA less financially reliant on membership dues, and that the events could be made to attract the necessary audience so that they can become financially stand-alone. At the broader level, the entire membership issue, including that of the chapters, will not be touched until the end of next year after the financial situation has stabilised.

Noting that PATA has an excellent team in place in China, he said, “It is thinking in commercial terms and organising numerous events on a financially self-sustaining basis. The same system might be replicated in other key PATA markets once our financial stability is restored.”

PATA’s long-serving and experienced staff are its key assets, he stressed. “My job is to remove the distractions and let them get on with their job.” Internal staff meetings are to be held every mid-month to appraise them of the financial situation, to keep the plans on track and take the hard decisions needed to keep it so.

Asked if the savings accrued by the removal of Mr Craigs’ salary from the books would contribute to the financial solvency next year, Mr Hardy declined comment, saying it had nothing directly to do with the rest of the productivity- and efficiency-building agenda.

Mr. Hardy said the statistical aggregating and analysis tool, MPower will no longer be marketed as an independent entity but incorporated more strongly into the package of overall PATA membership benefits. He said that the sales and marketing effort to promote its various levels and labels had been taking up too much time and effort, and the results were not in line with projections.

One of the key areas will be managing the relations with other industry groupings such as the World Travel and Tourism Council and the UN World Tourism Organisation, which Mr. Craigs had spent considerable time doing. Maintaining these relationships will be critical. The possibility of hiring a dedicated executive to manage Industry Affairs and Research will be explored next year.

Other tools that PATA has at its disposal are the partnership arrangements with global media such as BBC and the Time-Warner publications. These would be used to generate more intense pre- and post-publicity for the various events.

Asked about the advocacy agenda, Mr. Hardy replied: “My view is that advocacy needs to be driven by the needs of our members and issues that may arise from time to time that affects our sector. I also believe that the best way to address them is by conducting some professional research with the participation of both private and public partners. One topic that isn’t being discussed widely at the moment that I believe would be interesting to research is the potential effect of ASEAN Economic Community on Human Capital Development and the impact of a moving work force.”

Finally, he said, his primary objective will be to promote the interests of PATA and its members. “I have no private agenda and no interest in promoting myself,” he said, noting that he also enjoyed good working relations with all the Executive Board members.


Born in May 1965 in Montreal, Mr. Hardy is French-Canadian. He holds British, French, Canadian citizenship and is also a Singapore Permanent Resident. He speaks French, English and Spanish.  He has a BSc from the University of Montreal and a Public Relations Certificate from L’École des Hautes Études Commerciales de Montréal.

He began his career with People’s Express Airlines in 1985, before joining Canadian Airlines in 1987 where he spent 12 years in a number of sales, marketing and operational roles, leading to his appointment in a senior management role heading the Group Sales & Charter division in 1997. He worked 14 years for UBM/OAG a business with a focus on data analytics and events for the aviation sector and occupied several leadership roles in London, Beijing and Singapore.

He occupied the role of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PATA Foundation, a non-profit organisation with a mission to contribute to the sustainable and responsible development of travel from June 2012 to May 2014. He was appointed Chief Operations Officer at PATA in January 2014 and was promoted to Chief Executive Officer in November 2014.

He also founded MAP2 | Ventures in 2013 to pursue start up investments. In addition to providing seed capital, MAP2 | Ventures interest is in helping young entrepreneurs launch disruptive technologies and services in Online Travel, Technology, Predictive Analytics, Big Data, Internet of Things and Venture for Good.

He enjoys networking with professionals from any industry on a global scale and applying communication skills to engage in corporate social responsibility activities. He has lived on 3 continents, 7 countries and has over 10 years experience working in Asia. Passionate about travel, innovation, design and technology; you will often find him reading, FastCompany, TechCrunch, Mashable, National Geographic, watching TED Talks, or searching for the latest innovations on Kickstarter or Indiegogo.