The inaugural day of World Travel Market London 2023, hailed as the pinnacle event in the travel and tourism industry, commenced with a series of impactful international gatherings that laid the foundation for transformative discussions.
At the forefront was the 17th edition of the WTM Ministers’ Summit, a prestigious assembly that drew the participation of 40 representatives in 2023. In collaboration with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), this year’s summit centered around the theme “Transforming Tourism Through Youth and Education.”
According to hub.wtm.com, Natalia Bayona, Executive Director of UNWTO pointed out, “tourism is more than hotel administration,” stating that 80% of relevant degrees were focused on this subject.
Among ministers commenting at the summit, the UK’s Sir John Whittingdale said the prospect of good social mobility should be an enticement. “[In the travel industry] there are no ceilings, so you can go in at the bottom and reach right to the top… start on a hotel reception and end up running a group of hotels.”
Destinations showcased their sustainability credentials on the Discover Stage, with examples of best practice from around the world.
The German National Tourist Office is encouraging tourists to stay longer to relatively reduce their carbon footprint while the tourist boards of Greece, Italy, Spain and France outlined how they are enticing more holidaymakers to visit during the shoulder and winter seasons, as well as more off-the-beaten-track places to ease pressure on hotspots.
Pedro Medina, Deputy Director at Turespaña, the Spanish Tourist Office, said his country also has a focus on slow travel, encouraging holidays by train.
Brazil’s Embratur, highlighted Bonito, heralded as the world’s first carbon neutral ecotourism destination and Tourism Australia showcased the Discover Aboriginal Experiences collective.
Jonah Whitaker, UK and Ireland Managing Director at Visit California, said the tourist board has shifted to a “position of stewardship”, to encourage sustainable tourism practices.
Gilberto Salcedo, Tourism Vice President at Procolombia, said the country is reframing its “violent past” to ensure history won’t be repeated. Caguan Expeditions, for example, employs ex-guerrillas as guides and shifts them “from guns to paddles”.
Further innovation was celebrated on the Discover Stage when InterLnkd was named winner of the WTM Start-Up Pitch Battle, in partnership with Amadeus.
InterLnkd’dplatform connects travel and hospitality suppliers with fashion and beauty retailers.
It has a proprietary matching engine which means that travellers are presented with products from partners that are appropriate to their trip. CEO Barry Klipp said his business fills an ancillary gap and is a new, free revenue stream for the travel industry.
Simple things such as using easily readable fonts on signs are among easy ways to make neurodivergent people feel more at ease, a session entitled Spotlighting Hidden Disabilities: Successful Strategies for Inclusive Travel heard.
Neurodiversity Consultant Onyinye Udokporo said searches for the term ‘neurodivergent’ increased 5,000 per cent on Google last year, highlighting the growing importance being attributed to people with hidden disabilities. She said 15-20% of the global population is neurodivergent.
She said hotel companies, airlines and other corporations should also make changes internally. “If you don’t look after your employees, but look after your customers, it doesn’t make sense,” Udokporo told the audience.
Hotels could help by incorporating adjustable or dimmable lighting when redesigning rooms. Another suggestion was to offer weighted blankets, which can reduce anxiety.
“Start by fixing the simple things and take a moment to consider how it may affect people who are neurodivergent,” Udokporo said.
Former WTM Director Fiona OBE joined a panel session on Empowering Women to Change Travel, in which she discussed founding clean water project Just A Drop.
She said: “My mission was to try to encourage the travel and tourism industry to give back.” Also on stage was the First Lady of Iceland, Eliza Reid, who said the country is the closest in the world to closing the gender pay gap.
Several destinations took the opportunity of WTM London to detail their plans for the years ahead. The Balearic Islands outlined how sport and culture were to be a key strategy, partly to help to extend its tourism season. Forty low season events are planned in the next year, one of which is a new triathlon in Ibiza in September.
Marga Prohens, the islands’ president, said: “One of the first decisions by the new government (elected in May) was to put tourism, culture and sport into a single department.”
Jose Marcial Rodriguez, Majorca’s tourism minister, said the island had almost reached 100% of 2019 visitor levels and looked forward to a winter with increasing airlift. Together, the four Balaeric islands saw just under 1,200,000 travellers between October 2022 and May 2023, a 24% increase year on year.
Saudi Tourism Authority chief executive Fahd Hamidaddin detailed its Vision 2030 tourism plan which he said is vital for the country’s future.
“Vision 2030 is a national transformation agenda,” he said, explaining Saudi Arabia’s population was 60% below the age of 30 and that unemployment was a threat, which tourism could alleviate.
“To us, Vision 2030 is opportunity on steroids,” he declared, adding tourism was “expected to be our greatest bridge with the world”.
He was “very hopeful” the country would hit its 2030 target of 100 million visitors this year and had revised the original target to 150 million. A total of $800 billion would be spent by 2030, he revealed.
The country’s first Red Sea resort opened on November 1, with two more expected next year on the coastline, which stretches 1,700km.
Greece is on the threshold of a “new era in sustainability”, according to the country’s tourism minister Olga Kefalogianni. Speaking at WTM London she called it, “an integral part of our identity.”
Despite the pandemic, geopolitical situations and climate change, Greek tourism has demonstrated “remarkable resilience and resurgence”, she added, with arrivals in the year to August up 18% year on year and tourism receipts up 15%.
“There are solid indications that numbers will surpass the record year of 2019,” she said.
“Success brings its own challenges, and we are now embarking on a new chapter with sustainability at its core.”
She said investment in sustainable developments will disperse visitors throughout the country and extend the season beyond the peak warmer months.
Other developments include the modernisation of ski resorts and mountain refuges; a spotlight on Greece as a diving destination; funding to make marinas more energy efficient and accessible; and initiatives to include local farm produce in the breakfast buffets of big hotels.