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20 Jan, 2016

Hosted media at ASEAN Tourism Forum 2016 hit by attendance requirement at NTO briefings

Manila – Hosted travel journalists attending the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2016 are being required to provide proof of attendance at least seven out of 13 media briefings in order to be eligible for reimbursement of their air-fare.

Instituted for the first time at an ATF, the requirement has caught several regular media participants by surprise and led to some muted protests.

No official explanation has been given for the move. The introductory welcome briefing on housekeeping matters traditionally given to the media ended without an opportunity to ask any questions.

A senior executive of TTG Asia Media, the Singapore-based media and events organising company contracted by the Philippines Department of Tourism to manage this year’s event, said it was intended to ensure that hosted journalists generate the positive coverage expected of them.

Many journalists take advantage of hosted facilities to attend the ATF and produce little coverage of substance. Hence, the tightened conditionality is the same as the requirement for hosted buyers to get their appointment sheets stamped by the sellers to ensure that they show up.

It has been added to other requirements such as producing a minimum of one pre-event and one post-event article, daily coverage and reports of event developments, where possible, minimum of 5 posts on social media (facebook, twitter, instagram) containing articles, pictures and updates on ATF 2016, and additional coverage and reports on destination(s) visited during pre-show and post-show tours.

The journalists also have been told that their “performance, coverage and publicity contributions to ATF 2016 will be referenced to validate (their) hosting potential at future ATFs and events managed by TTG Asia Media.”

Journalists were surprised to hear at the media briefing that cash-refund system for the air-fare reimbursement will be replaced by a bank transfer, minus the bank charges, within two months, possibly earlier. Some of them asked why, and were told that it was “due to the process.”

Although the objective is intended to ensure positive publicity in exchange for the hosted status, the jury is out on the expected results.

The primary problem is that the ASEAN NTO briefings are not of the same standards; some are tedious, unproductive and boring. Many of the regular ATF journalists have also heard the same presentations at other international travel shows. Moreover, the Powerpoint presentations are usually made available later.

Requiring the journalists to turn up for even seven of the 13 briefings diverts them from other more productive events. Indeed, the best stories often are generated by talking to buyers and sellers at the Travex. The sellers, too, appreciate any value-added publicity as they are the primary financiers of the event. This is especially true for the sellers from the host-country who are always in the majority.

The problem is worsened this year by logistics: The convention centre where the NTO media briefings and the Travex trade show are being held and the Sofitel hotel where all the ASEAN industry conferences and public and private sector meetings are being held are 10-15 minutes drive away from each other, depending on the traffic.

For example, on Thursday Jan 21, the busiest day of the ATF 2016, the media briefings of Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia will overlap with the Travex at the SMX Convention Centre and the ASEAN Tourism Conference at the Sofitel.

The same afternoon, three more media briefings are scheduled by Myanmar, Viet Nam and Brunei at the SMX Convention Centre. They end at 1700 which is followed by a launch of Tourism Stories Philippines Edition at 1730 at the Sofitel.

The evening has the Singapore cocktail party and the Thailand late-night function.

Navigating that schedule in order to get those attendance stamps just complicates the planning process of a long day.

Hence, it did not take long for the regulation to find a loophole. A number of journalists said they would just go to the NTO briefing room, get their attendance-form stamped and leave after a few minutes.

Most of the journalists prefer to experience the host destination, especially if they are first-timers, or walk the Travex trade shows to catch up with contacts and look for new products and services. Others just publish or re-write the media releases, or generate more analytical stories weeks after the event.

TTG Asia Media executives said they welcomed all the feedback they were getting, especially the more detailed responses expected in the evaluation form. Submitting the evaluation form is also one of the new requirements instituted to qualify for the air-fare reimbursement.