Nearly 1000 industry leaders gathered in Las Vegas this week to discuss, debate and define some of the key issues facing the Travel & Tourism industry at this year's WTTC Global Travel & Tourism Summit.
The mood among delegates could be described as "tempered optimism." Conference speakers generally reported that travel and tourism in both developed and developing countries is significantly improved over 2009 and 2010, and will soon return to pre-recession levels. However, due to recent unrest in some countries, the "mix" of travel has changed significantly.
Travel and tourism demand drives hospitality development, requiring new and refreshed designs of places people visit, stay at, and enjoy. Ever since WATG's founder Pete Wimberly partnered with Pan Am Airlines in the 1950s to explore and develop new travel destinations around the Pacific Rim, our firm has specialized in the design of culturally-sensitive destinations around the globe. Some of the key points discussed at the 2011 WTTC Summit are particularly relevant to our business, as they underscore the importance of tourism as a driver of economic growth and acknowledge its impact on the hospitality industry:
Travel and Tourism accounts for 10% of the world's GDP, and is one of the major sources of new growth for both emerging and established destinations. A common refrain at WTTC was: "Travel and tourism equals exports." In other words, when people travel internationally, they spend money on foreign goods and services just as if they purchased foreign goods from home.
Travel and tourism is a relatively simple way to help offset the huge trade imbalance between the U.S. and China, particularly as Chinese travelers seek to travel beyond their country's borders. However, the biggest stumbling blocks to the growth of international travelers to the U.S. and to other destinations are the strict restrictions and limitations on travel visas and immigration imposed after 9/11. Even so, millions will travel outside their home countries in 2011 for the very first time. It is time for governments to create simple and straightforward travel visa processes to encourage travel and tourism.
The global hospitality industry is extremely fragmented and interdependent. Hotels cannot expand unless airlines and other forms of transportation continue to increase capacity and routes. Airlines cannot increase capacity and routes unless people can freely travel to destinations of their choice. People will not travel to a destination unless they have comfortable, safe, and welcoming lodging facilities.
There is more capital available for hospitality projects today than at any time in the past three years, and capital continues to flow into the hospitality sector. However, the expectations of investors remains high and only projects with the right mix will be funded.
Investors are looking for established brands and knowledgeable teams who know how to make hospitality developments successful.
Over the next 20 years, industry analysts expect business travel to continue to drive global economic growth.
Technology, it is widely agreed, will never replace the need of people to meet face-to-face in order to do business. A key to success in hospitality is a focus on the guest experience. Give visitors what they want; make them feel welcome; and offer an authentic experience that caters to their particular needs.
Next year's World Travel and Tourism Council Summit will be held in Tokyo in April. Hopefully, by that time the U.S. and other governments of the world will have solved the travel visa bottleneck problem, allowing travel and tourism to continue to drive economic growth and prosperity.
I'm at the Global Spa Summit in Bali supporting our two Cornell Hotel Management students Sarah Widjaja and Saurabh Sud in the 'Profitable Spa Student Challenge' Four teams of students from Asian hotel schools are paired with design firms to submit entries. This year the theme was centred on profitability after previous years of 'fantasy' designs. Sarah and Suarab made a great presentation of their 'Theaven' spa concept, aimed at a younger market in the shopping malls of China's emerging cities. They created quite a buzz amongst the Spa professionals attending the summit.
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