WTM Wrap-Up: The industry unites in the face of downturn

Record numbers turned out for World Travel Market 2008 as the travel industry united in the face of the global financial crisis.

Some 50,000 participants from 200 countries attended the four-day travel extravaganza in London’s Docklands. Whilst the big R word was the topic rumbling through the halls of ExCeL, the consensus was that travel is no longer a luxury but a necessity, and that the industry will re-emerge from the economic storm stronger, albeit leaner.Speaking at the Ministers’ Summit, United Nations World Tourism Organization secretary-general, Francesco Frangialli, said: “There will be no tourism tsunami. We are worried, but not in a panic. Tourism flows from emerging countries are increasing and the need to travel and the desire for leisure are engrained.”

WTTC president and chief executive Jean-Claude Baumgarten remained upbeat, arguing: “Whenever there has been a downturn, consumers have kept travelling. They travel less far, spend less time away and spend less money. But 2010 could see the restart of travel and tourism.”

(Above: Jean-Claude Baumgarten, WTTC president and chief executive, with Jeanine Pires, President Embratur)

But Professor Peter Keller, an adviser to the UNWTO and director of tourism at the University of Lausanne, adopted a more bearish stance. He predicted “a slow downturn and a slow recovery”, and warned “It is unlikely emerging economies will be the driver of the world economy.”


The UNWTO expects the global tourism industry to slow to 0-2% growth in international tourism against a long-term average of 4.2% per annum.

UK Tourism minister Barbara Follett believed the country’s tourism market was already well under the cosh, and was responsible for half the fall in Britain’s GDP for the second quarter of 2008.

She said: “Half the contraction came from hospitality and tourism. A large part of that was due to sharp falls in visitors from North America, down 15%, and Japan - down 25% - this summer.”

(Above: the Brasil bus - the only happy travellers in a week of public transport meltdown)

But the main focus of Visit Britain during the exhibition was the public transport chaos. Many delegates spoke of doubling journey times to get to and from the venue in East London, as tube lines and the Docklands Light Railway overloaded.

Given that no more than 50,000 people were travelling to and from an exhibition hall, the capital ability to move 500,000 a day to and from Olympic events in just over three years was called seriously into question.

Back in the show hall, there was a real buzz as X Factor judge Dannii Minogue (pictured left) dropped by the Etihad stand to mark the start of a non-stop daily service from Abu Dhabi to her hometown of Melbourne next March.

Stars from Chelsea Football Club also visited the Etihad stand. Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda delighted fans as they signed autographs, and celebrated Etihad Airways’ ongoing sponsorship of the west London club. Meanwhile their boss, Big Phil Scolari, visited the Brazil stand to mark Florianópolis hosting the World Travel & Tourism (WTTC) Summit from 15-16 May 2009.

(Pictured below Reigning Miss World, Zi Lin Zhang of China, with Paulo Senise, Executive Director, Rio CVB)

Reigning Miss World, Zi Lin Zhang of China, turned heads as she unveiled the new destinations for the World Travel Awards 2009, as well as chairing a press conference for Johannesburg Tourism Company, as the city gears up to host the final of Miss World 2008 on 13 December.

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