The Talk of World Travel Market
By James Shillinglaw
November 14, 2011 11:45 PM
London’s World Travel Market (WTM) is the one of the largest travel trade shows in the world, maybe the largest. So it’s usually a good gauge of the health of the travel industry. Attendance at this year’s event, held last week at the ExCel exhibition hall in East London, seemed big enough (WTM says about 48,000 exhibitors and buyers attended), with the show’s organizers claiming visitors were up 14 percent on the first day -- though there were no press releases about the second, third and fourth days.
Of course, I don’t pay much attention to attendance figures, especially for such a massive show (it’s hard to double check by counting yourself). Instead, WTM is a good time to take stock of overall trends in travel and tourism -- which is exactly what WTM does in its annual forecast issued during the event.
Two of the issues that were talked about most in the press conferences and hallways were the economic situation in Europe and the potential effect of the 2012 Olympics on London’s tourism industry.
The WTM 2011 Industry Report, a survey of key exhibitors and buyers, focuses on the central issues facing the industry and what WTM thinks will be discussed during the event. This year those issues ranged from taxation on the industry to the effect of social media on the travel business and the rise in the importance of China and other BRIC countries to travel and tourism. But two of the issues that were talked about most in the press conferences and hallways were the economic situation in Europe and the potential effect of the 2012 Olympics on London’s tourism industry.
For example, WTM’s Industry Report found that as major global economics continue to struggle, putting more pressure on travel and tourism, some consumers -- at least those in the United Kingdom -- are not taking vacations. The report found that 38 percent of British consumers did not take a vacation and had no plans to do so in 2011. Of those British consumers who did take a vacation this year, almost six out 10 (59 percent) only took one vacation. The study attributed those bleak numbers to the squeeze in household budgets as well as higher travel taxes. Those who did take a holiday said they preferred either more all-inclusive vacations or “stay-cations” in the U.K. -- in other words less costly alternatives for their holidays.
Most surveys in the United States have focused on the how people have refused to give up their vacations despite the recession or sluggish economy. Let’s just hope that trend continues here, if those U.S. surveys have been correct in the first place.
Indeed, I was somewhat surprised by how bleak European travel industry executives are about the economic situation in the Eurozone. They seem much more concerned than when the United States was in the midst of its recession a couple of years ago. The London-based World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has even revised its estimates for global travel and tourism significantly downward, from its initial forecast of 4.5 percent growth in 2011 and 5.1 percent in 2012 to a revised forecast of 3.2 percent in 2011 and 3.3 percent in 2012. In particular the WTTC is predicting sluggish travel and tourism growth in Europe and the U.S. If European leaders can ultimately resolve the current financial crisis, however, perhaps travel and tourism will see greater gains and the WTTC will have to revise its estimates again.
WTM is in London, of course, so the 2012 Olympics were top of mind for many suppliers, especially how the games will affect the city and the U.K. as a whole next summer. WTM’s Industry Report said the Olympics is being heralded as a major opportunity for Britain's travel and tourism industry since it will be used to attract an extra four million visitors to Britain and generate £1 billion over time. According to the report, roughly 82 percent of senior travel executives believe major sporting events -- such as the 2012 Olympics -- will have a positive impact on the host country and attract more tourists. Only 16 percent believe the impact is negative with tourists staying away due to the disruption caused by such large events.
The WTM report found that the vast majority of industry executives (more than 80 percent) expect both London and the U.K. to benefit from the 2012 Games.
The WTM report found that the vast majority of industry executives (more than 80 percent) expect both London and the U.K. to benefit from the 2012 Games. On the other hand, just 33 percent believe the Olympics will have a positive impact on their business, with 49 percent saying there will be no impact and 17 percent saying there will be a negative impact. That seems more in line with another survey unveiled last week by the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), which found what it called a major slump in leisure tourism bookings is under way due to the Olympics.
According to ETOA, 38 tour operators who move more than two million people to London annually are expecting a significant downturn throughout 2012. This is especially true in July and August, where operators are currently seeing a 60 percent shortfall in bookings. Those same operators say bookings during the period of the Olympic Games are running at 95 percent below where they would normally be at that time. I spoke with several operators at WTM who were looking for destinations beyond London for next summer because they were concerned they couldn't find hotel rooms in the city.
So there you have it: two of the big topics at WTM were the Eurozone economic crisis and the 2012 Olympics, both of which aren’t necessarily good news for the travel industry. Let’s just hope the impact is fairly minimal, or next year in London they just may be topics for discussion again at WTM.
James Shillinglaw is editor in chief of TravelPulse.