The vibe from abroad: Another world travel market, another challenging destination

WTM is over for another year and the exhibitors scatter to the winds, back to their offices, exhausted after four days of intense smiling, late nights, too much coffee and unhealthy dining.

When WTM moved from Earls Court to ExCeL in 2002, the uproar was deafening and included such memorable reasons why it was all so bad; “I will have to travel east when I arrive at Victoria station” and another horror “where on earth is ExCeL?”. So it was with a mixture of amusement and sadness that I find these sentiments still very much in evidence in 2010. Smug exhibitors staying in west London were clearly feeling self-satisfied compared to those unfortunate souls having to make do with the local accommodation options.

East London (not to be confused with the town in South Africa) has long suffered from perceptions of high crime, low awareness, general negativity and frankly, a lack of interest. The product owners have always worked in the shadow of west London greatness and visitor numbers seemed to suggest this was never going to change.

Even before London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games in 1995, the local industry had begun to work together to alter those perceptions and start to develop a coherent communications strategy for these unknown or developing clusters. Not a task for the feint-hearted, as this is the big ask; asking consumers to consider new options and challenging entrenched buying patterns and perceptions; the first-time visitor to London walks a well-trodden path and rarely steps outside this. Suppliers were being asked to work together, to promote outside their portfolio, to promote access and the wider destination.

We decided in the interests of economy and common sense, to not communicate with the first-time visitor directly, but to concentrate on those segments (local and international), that had been to London before and were in the market for new and “off the beaten track” experiences. It was amazing just what we found once we started to map and develop links in and around the destination.

I believe that Cape Town is at that point in its growth and maturity in the UK market; so many visitors have now been up Table Mountain, taken photo’s of penguins and dined at the Waterfront, and what the travel trade has been telling us all week, their clients are ready too for new experiences. Cape Town still has much to offer and this could perhaps be the way in for smaller product owners who offer something authentic, of high quality and most of all, value for money. For this strategy to be sustainable however, they must work together with the established product and not be seen in parallel, difficult to access or promote. As in London, both well-established and the newer products have something to offer visitors.

Judging from my encounters at WTM this year, there is clearly a lot more work to be done in east London, but we are in it for the long haul.

Mary Tebje, MTA Tourism Leisure .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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