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Sat 7 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

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ATM quality versus quantity issue goes beyond the show

The jury is out as to whether this year's instalment of Arabian Travel Market attracted more visitors than last year.

The jury is out as to whether this year's instalment of Arabian Travel Market attracted more visitors than last year.

Many exhibitors claim that 2008 was "much quieter" than the 2007 show and that numbers were "definitely down", although day one of the event (May 6-9, 2008) was noticeably busier according to the participants with whom ATN spoke.

By day three, however, there was less of a buzz and there was a feeling that many delegates had already gone home or back to work.

This was a shame considering that day three was the inaugural Travel Agents' Day, sponsored by Arabian Travel News and involving an innovative passport scheme whereby participating agents could win a multitude of prizes, from laptops and iPods to hotel stays and holidays to far-flung destinations across the globe - Ireland, Austria, Germany and Sri Lanka, to name but a few.

For those agents that didn't take part - or whose managers didn't allow them to leave the office - you missed out, not only in terms of prizes, but more importantly, product knowledge.

What was evident at ATM, however, was that the travel agents who did make the effort to attend also made the effort to talk to suppliers and learn about new products and services.

Tourism Australia said the quality of agents visiting its stand this year was far superior to those visting in previous years meaning that quality prevailed over quantity.

This is just as well considering that ATM organiser Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE) has declared a 15% increase in the number of quality visitors attending the 2008 show.

Cynics have said this translates to numbers were down, but RTE has made no secret that going forward its policy is to improve the quality of both visitors and exhibitors, rather than boost the number of bums on seats.

It will take some time before the final visitor count for ATM 2008 is released as the auditors will now need to do some number-crunching, however, what is interesting - and perhaps quite telling - is that several hotels said they were not as full as usual during this year's show.

New property, The Palace, Old Town, which is located very conveniently in the new Downtown complex, just a five-minute drive from the Dubai World Trade Centre, said it was surprised that occupancy was in the 90s, with room to spare.

The hotel revealed that more established properties had reported similar numbers when usually ATM scored them 100% occupancy rates.

The explanation? One could point to the increase in hotel rooms coming online in recent months, creating enough supply to meet demand, or maybe quite simply there were fewer delegates attending ATM?

If there were, the quality of ATM itself may not be to blame, but rather the escalating rack rates at hotels across Dubai. It may be that it's simply deemed too expensive to attend the show.

That could be one explanation for a busy day one with a day three tail off as delegates opted for fewer days at the show to keep costs down.

As RTE reviews visitor numbers, the issue of high room rates and their impact should be taken seriously.

Gemma Greenwood is the senior group editor of ITP Business travel and hospitality magazines.

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