19 Nov

Comment: WTM buzz offered an unexpected mood of optimism

There is no better event than World Travel Market to gauge the mood of the global tourism industry and this year’s event had a rather unexpected buzz and positivity about it.

As I met representatives from more than 15 governments, there was a feeling of optimism for 2013 and beyond.

It was also pleasing to hear that while the number of tourists is growing exponentially from emerging markets such as Russia and China, UK tourists are still among the most valued by both developed and developing destinations.

It is without doubt that the global economic downturn has hit the travel industry hard and no more so than in some of the developing tourism destinations.

When times are hard, tourists tend to put their faith in destinations they know best and are less likely to take anything they perceive as a risk.

Many destinations have begun to rely hugely on tourism, such as Kenya and the Gambia for example, and have really felt the impact from the downturn in Europe.

Tourism has long been recognised by governments worldwide as a source of income, however, its potential in many countries has often been the victim of short term thinking.

What was very promising from the conversations I had at WTM is that despite challenges, many destinations have continued to invest for the long-term and there are signs that many are taking hospitality more and more seriously.

Take the Gambia for example. Over the past few years the Gambian Government has invested in new subsidised training facilities for people working in hospitality and tourism.

The government has also been working hard to continue to attract foreign investment.

In Cuba we have also recently witnessed the investment the government has placed in infrastructure and how emergency preparedness pays off. The tourism industry there was able to quickly get back to service after being hit by Hurricane Sandy.

When meeting the Brazilian tourism representatives, it was impressive to see the planning they are putting in place, in advance of them hosting two major sporting events – the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

With sustainability being such a key theme at London 2012, it’s encouraging to hear the Brazilian authorities are supporting schemes such as Travelife, highlighting that they are thinking about long-term sustainable tourism development.

Tourism will undoubtedly benefit from this long-term thinking in the future

Whether the optimism will translate into growth next year remains to be seen but sooner or later we will emerge from the downturn. For agents it’s important to continue showing support to destinations in good times and bad.

Demand might have been lower in recent years but it will come back and those agents who have forged good links with operators working in emerging destinations will be in a strong position for their customers in the not to distant future.

Nikki's comment was published by Travel Weekly.