The sun wasn’t the only thing shining at IPW last week. Denver and the entire state of Colorado were a refreshing change from the familiar cast of destinations that have hosted the event before and it was clear that the city and region had a great deal to offer. If we wore hats, we would take them off to Jane Buck, Lisa Breuning and the entire tour and travel team at Visit Denver and Colorado Tourism for staging a truly spectacular event.
From conversations with over 40 suppliers, operators, media and receptives, the general consensus seemed to be that the industry has recovered from its own strain of PTSD (Post Trump Stress Disorder) and buyers seemed resigned that our political environment isn’t going to change anytime soon, and they need to focus on new product for their customer base.
There were 45 private events competing for tour operators on Tuesday night. Gone are the days of the glitzy gatherings, when San Francisco would invest over $400,000 for its after-party, which featured an elaborate security system that involved, through various different years, bouncers, secret codes, apps and queues that rivaled a TSA security line on a Monday morning—with a Studio 54 vibe. This year Tuesday night hosts were hustling for buyers, media and even extending invitations to industry colleagues indiscriminately in order to avoid the ignominy of looking unpopular.
Many experienced the Rocky Mountain High for the first time: IPW Denver was the first time the event has been hosted in state that has legalized marijuana and reports abounded of both operators and suppliers appearing at events and even at appointments with glassy-eyed stares and unexplained pangs of hunger as they trolled booths for complimentary snacks or candy.
What follows are observations, trends and tidbits from the trade show floor.
Will Melania Trump be the face of travel promotion to the USA? Noel Irwin Hentchel, CEO of AmericanTours International and one of the newest Brand USA board members, has offered to use her connections to the Trump family which, according to comments during an on-stage interview conducted at the RTO Summit West this past February, go back decades. Her support of Trump during the campaign, she said, was because she felt, as a hotelier and businessman, he would be good for the travel industry. As the first receptive operator invited to be part of Brand USA’s board of directors, she will surely be a forceful advocate for programs that will benefit international tour operators. She comes with a willingness not only to engage her political connections in a way that no one else had, but also with an out-of-the-box mindset towards promotion.
Is Brand USA developing its own Media Outlets ? Brand USA seems to be nudging into the media business with Go USA TV, a channel to be available on Over the Top (Roku, Apple TV, etc.) set box TVs, where it plans to distribute the stockpile of video assets they’ve accumulated over the last five years from industry partners. Its ability to achieve distribution through international markets and measure viewership will determine Brand USA’s ultimate success, but it is certainly a boon for their partners who’ve invested in multi-language content over the years.
Also laudable is Brand USA’s industry education initiatives to work with countries like China, where visa rejections have skyrocketed, to train tour operators and travel agents about properly preparing applications for their clients traveling to the U.S.
Receptive Operators Moving into Thought Leadership marketing. While Faisal Sublaban, CEO of Bonotel Exclusive Travel, became the first receptive operator to spend heavily on social media marketing with his “Hotelboss” persona dispensing pearls of business wisdom on LinkedIn and offering his hotels nearly $1 million in brand promotion through social media in key international markets. Meanwhile, Hotelbeds Group, perhaps in a prelude to a public offering in the future, has developed a frisky blog focusing on the cities hosting trade shows. The blog has produced stories such as “WTM Latin America: Has the future finally arrived for Brazil?” or “What type of traveler has time to attend all of the travel industry’s many conferences?”
18 Professional Sports Teams Suit up for IPW. For the first time ever eighteen professional sports teams covering baseball (7 teams), football (6), basketball (2) and hockey (1) exhibited at IPW seeking international visitors to fill empty seats and buy tours of their parks. Baseball, with over 160 regular season games, has plenty of capacity, especially when teams are out of playoff contention, and promoting the Great American Pastime could be a viable new product category if someone could explain to them the intricacies of the infield fly rule.
Airfare Wars Driving New U.S. Arrivals.
- According to Official Airline Guide, international enplanements to the USA totaled 5 million in 2017.
- Tourism from Australia is growing for the South and Midwest due to increased air lift and lower fares to Chicago and Dallas/ Ft. Worth.
- The collapse of low cost carrier Monarch Airlines last October may have left 110,000 passengers stranded in beach destinations throughout Europe, but Florida destinations noted a surge in UK visitor bookings, partially because there are fewer low cost air options rendering Florida more competitive.
- Iceland’s WOW airlines now offers one-stop service from Europe to 13 US destinations for $350.
- Citing weak demand, American Airlines has slashed airfares from both Frankfurt and Munich in Germany, as well as several Latin America destinations.
UK Tour Operators Worry new European Privacy Regulations will severely impact sales.Several UK tour operators that have amassed extensive direct mail e-mail lists via years of sweepstakes promotions that offer free trips, expressed real concern the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) privacy regulations will decimate their e-mail marketing capabilities. One operator told INBOUND that, as they interpreted the rules, any consumer contact-obtained from contests now had to opt-in to provide express permission to receive further e-mails from the company. Of the 300,000 e-mail contacts to which opt-in requests were sent, only 17 opted in to receive further promotional contact from the company.
Quick Market Notes …
Argentina: Tour operators from Argentina were seeking additional deals in Denver as the government announced another 25 percent currency devaluation two weeks before the show. On the plus side, marketing and travel for missions are now extremely affordable.
Germany: Germans are reluctant to travel to the U.S. this year because the general feeling is they can’t support our politics of the current administration. Especially onerous, was the fact that within 24 hours of being sworn in as the new Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, a former Fox News commentator, made the situation even worse by threatening German business to immediately cease doing business with Iran or else face the consequences with US trade.