Agents, NTOs go own ways on fairs(2)

14 February 2003

A battle over price versus value promotion in Singapore has seen the creation of a new non-agent travel fair next month, as NTOs seek to go it alone on pitching new products to the public.

Singapore consumers will next month be treated to two separate NATAS (National Association of Travel Agents Singapore) events designed to lure them to travel this year. One of them, NATAS Travel 2003, from March 21-23 and held in the suburban heartlands of Changi at Singapore Expo, will essentially be price-led.

The other, NATAS 2003 Roadshow (March 1-2) will lead on destination value, and features no travel agents. The event has so far confirmed participation from Korea, Spain, Malaysia and Britain, and will be held in the heart of Singapore’s exclusive retail belt, at Ngee Ann City on Orchard Road.

While some destinations are taking part in both, British Tourist Authority is one NTO that has voted with its feet, and won’t be at NATAS Travel 2003.

“The NATAS fair is not the right vehicle for an NTO like BTA at this time. But I believe that the Roadshow, only to be attended by NTOs, is the ideal platform to get out and talk to the public in general,” said BTA manager, South-east Asia, Michael McCormick (pictured).

“We need to raise consumer interest and then encourage them to NATAS Travel 2003 to make an actual booking. I am looking forward to seeing how this works and then perhaps it will be developed further in the future,” said McCormick.

With air capacity to their destinations a major issue for tourist offices, increasing tourist receipts and attracting new high yield clients has become a priority for NTOs. For outbound agents struggling against economic and safety fears, cashflow generation is a must.

Assistant general manager for SA/UIC Tours, Wee Hee Ling, concedes that the split was increased by the travel fair’s venue switch to Changi, away from Suntec.

“I know most of the NTOs were not happy with the location of Singapore Expo as last year’s event did not reach out to potential buyers. We mostly had those who had attended before, already had the intention to travel and had decided where they wanted to go,” said Wee.

Leading with price was important in a down-market cycle, said Wee. “We have to balance price and value all the time. But in this current market situation, we vote for pricing rather than value, as our objective is to get people to travel,” she said.

Destination-driven promotion too often resulted in “beautiful white elephant packages that remain sitting on the shelves,” she said.

President-outbound for NATAS, Robin Yap, sees the split in travel fairs as a sign of evolving roles. “The roles of NTO have changed drastically over the years. While some are firm believers in consumer events, others prefer joint promotions with their agency partners. I guess it has to do with the money they have and wanting to maximise its usage.”

The travel fair in September had been designed to focus on destinations, he said. “But consumer buying behavior once again drove it to a retailing event. Personally, I support a valued-led proposition but in reality a high percentage of visitors to the fair look for price bargains.”

McCormick said agents must innovate. “Ultimately price focus means there is little or no innovation in the product being offered.”

He added, “I think the NATAS Roadshow is a natural evolution. Sometimes it is good to try to do things differently.”

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