Are regional tourism boards all mouth and no action these days?

I’ve just returned from World Travel Market in London where all four corners of the world were extremely well represented, including the Middle East.

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By  Gemma Greenwood Published  November 29, 2006

|~|gemma-4.gif|~||~|I’ve just returned from World Travel Market in London where all four corners of the world were extremely well represented, including the Middle East. First timers at the event included the burgeoning emirate of Fujairah, which is preparing to welcome several new resorts to its East Coast shores next year, and even countries battling to sustain a tourism industry due to political instability used WTM to promote their attributes. Palestine, a country witnessing turbulent times, erected a stand at the event. So too did Lebanon in a bid to convince the world the destination is back online following the recent war. Countries enjoying more stable conditions, flourishing inbound tourism industries and healthy marketing budgets erected larger and more impressive stands in a bid to woo the crowds. But it is disappointing that the bravado and hype displayed by some of the tourism boards at events such as WTM is not matched at other times of the year. The wow factor often targets the consumer only and neglects the trade. I came to this conclusion after visiting the majority of the stands in the Middle East and North Africa pavilion and witnessing the complacency of some of the exhibitors. Some tourism authority desks were unmanned and others were operated by representatives that were either inexperienced or blatantly indifferent. The Middle East was not the only culprit – some of the Asian stands were as equally unwelcoming or unknowledgeable. In stark contrast were the tourism authorities from Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean, and Africa, representatives of which were bending over backwards to provide useful information. I’m not the only WTM delegate to hold the opinion that some tourism boards are all mouth and no action. Even Hans Haensel, senior vice president, destination and leisure management division, Emirates, who attended the first two days of WTM, said the region’s tourism boards “don’t do enough” to promote their countries and work with the trade. “I think maybe for them it is a learning curve and it will take them many years, but they are definitely not as proactive as tourist boards in Asia and Australia,” he told me. “It would be difficult to single out a good tourist board in this region. They would not be in the top 20 anyway.” Haensel stressed that many of the region’s tourism boards produced poor quality brochures and collateral and relied on Emirates Holidays to promote their destinations. And for many months, he and his colleagues have bemoaned tourism authorities’ inability or unwillingness to share simple data such as tourism arrivals figures with companies such as Emirates Holidays. This is a problem ATN has also encountered when compiling its detailed destination reports each month, and several exhibitors with whom I spoke at WTM acknowledged the lack lustre efforts of government tourism departments Middle East wide. In this respect, the tourism authorities are shooting themselves in the foot. By providing Emirates Holidays and other key trade partners with essential information such as inbound trends and traveller habits, they can develop joint strategies to entice more arrivals, secure more repeat business and encourage visitors to stay for longer durations. My point is that tourism boards can’t hide behind their impressive double-decker exhibition stands forever. They must stop neglecting their trade relations duties and start delivering a consistent message to the consumer from stand décor to quality promotional collateral. No amount of complimentary dates and Arabic coffee at a trade show can substitute the quality service and assistance they should be providing.||**||

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