PATA at 60

Posted: Thu 14 Apr, 2011 12:00 AM
By: Travel Pulse

In Beijing earlier this week the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) resumed doing what it does best - its annual conference. PATA’s first full conference since 2006 celebrated the association’s 60thanniversary at Beijing’s China World Hotel from April 9 to 12. The last time PATA gathered in Beijing, roughly 14 years ago, it faced very different challenges.


Since that PATA meeting in 1997, China has nearly tripled its tourist arrivals. Unfortunately that kind of success for China and the rest of the region has not translated into support for PATA itself. In 1997 the delegate count for the Beijing Conference was 3,500; this year it was 1,000, about half of whom came from outside China.


Knowing that it had to revitalize its membership, PATA in March reached out to Bill Calderwood to lead the organization on an interim basis. A 30-year travel industry veteran, Calderwood is best known for his work as deputy managing director of the Australian Tourism Commission when that group was the coordinating engine of the Sydney Olympics. Calderwood accepted the challenge and will remain CEO through September. Essentially he was hired to operate the conference, hire his replacement and most of all re-establish PATA as the authority on Pacific Asia travel.


The mood this year was different from other PATA conferences. On the stage, pomp and circumstance were exchanged for a more substantive, down-to-earth approach best summarized by Calderwood’s observation: “This is where we are and this is where we want to go.” The conference agenda made a taut, unsentimental case for PATA’s relevance in the past, the present and into the future. It struck just the right tone as nostalgia and laurels would have viewed as quaint when set against Beijing’s modern adrenal energy.


PATA has been an essential catalyst and manager of tourism in the region since it began back in 1951. With PATA as a steward, Pacific Asia travel went from about 100,000 annual visitors per year in the early 1950s to the 566 million it attracted last year. The Pacific Asia region today is the second most visited region in the world, according to the UNWTO. Sixty years ago the region lacked everything from airports and hotels to telecommunications and decent highways.

As Pacific Asia destinations developed, PATA was there to introduce the nuances of destination marketing, crisis management, multi-country marketing, environmental management and the coming of the Internet. The organization was always at its best in preparing members for changes on the horizon. My own first awareness of the Internet came at the 1995 conference when PATA put up a sample website, the first one I’d ever seen.


As PATA looks to the future, it is preparing its members for the “Generation C” traveler - people born after 1990 who have never known anything but a world online. John Koldowski, PATA’s deputy CEO and the head of its office of strategy management, says that by 2020 this generation will make up 40 percent of the U.S. population. “These travelers process information differently,” he says. “They grew up on fast moving images and clips, not books and newspapers. These people text each other even when they’re in the same room. You can no longer market in a single way. You need a multi-faceted marketing approach that speaks to different segments in their own language and in their own mediums. It’s imperative to involve these younger people who are wired for this new kind of communication in PATA going forward.”


Before the conference even started, PATA hosted its Chapter Colloquium where some 65 delegates addressed ways to increase cooperation and partnership between the Chapter network and PATA’s head office. They also discussed how chapter members can work with inbound and outbound flows and examined best practices. First established in 1961, the network by 1997 had reached 100 chapters on five continents. Today there are 38 international chapters, including 11 in North America.


Both Calderwood and PATA Chairman Hiran Cooray signaled a renewed commitment to the Chapter network as an asset that sets PATA apart from other tourism organizations. “We have 7,500 chapter members around the world,” says Calderwood. “And we have 755 allied members. Just three of those allied member companies account for 9,000 hotels. Between the vertical clout of our allied members and the horizontal breadth of our chapters, this organization has both depth and reach.” Calderwood also promised there would be more communication with the chapters and set a goal of establishing five new chapters, including one in Beijing, and restoring some of the lost chapters. “By 2012 we hope to have grown to 50 chapters,” he says.


“We need closer ties to the chapters,” says Alliana Ho, a PATA board member and vice president of sales and distribution marketing for Hong Kong Disneyland. “We need to communicate so that we can learn how to create better value for our members. It was the Internet that weakened the network, when information became immediately available. We need to listen to chapter members so that we can create value for them.”


PATA’s board concluded the conference with the announcement of a new Beijing Declaration, a strategy designed to deal with major crises that affect travel and tourism. “We need to have a task force for dealing with disasters quickly,” Calderwood says. “Natural disasters like Japan and political upheavals as in the Middle East create problems for travel. We need to address those situations quickly and effectively and deal with the misinformation that always accompanies disasters. Within 1.5 days of the tsunami we had a portal on our website that provided correct information on the situation in Japan.” Calderwood also confirmed that a decision was made to host another conference next April at a still undetermined destination. Where PATA will be on its 61stanniversary is anyone’s guess, but clearly the organization seems back on track to help promote one of the fastest growing destination regions in the world.


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James Ruggia, a former PATA journalist of the year, is executive editor covering Pacific Asia and Europe for

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