With WTM London just three days away, we're wondering how optimistic to be. Once unmissable, WTM London has sadly been declining for a number of years now. What will it deliver in 2019?
All the way back to the launch of PURE in Morocco, all too many high-end lodges and DMCs have slowly deserted WTM and the organisers have not successfully responded. A downward spiral has followed, with the number of UK buyers attending dropping significantly, whilst those who do attend have dramatically reduced the time they spend at the show.
The days of UK buyers spending 2-3 full days at ExCeL are long gone. Instead, many arrive around 11.00 and are gone by 3pm, having met only with existing partners. At WTM2018, a new location within the hall seemed to benefit Africa and visitors numbers were healthier, although the UK's contribution to this was only around 25 buyers, out of over 200!
Namibia was the first major destination to pull out completely, followed by Mozambique and Zambia. Other countries have threatened to do so, but instead they have taken drastically reduced stand sizes (including South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi and others). Ironically, Sierra Leone's first visit to WTM in 2018 proved to be a roaring success, with Senegal and The Gambia looking to do the same this time around, especially given the growing interest in West Africa.
Mauritius which has long been a major presence at WTM, is facing pressure from their private sector, who are expressing concerns over ROI.
Worryingly, not only have tour operator numbers dropped, so have the number of journalists attending. Media invites have been all too frequently greeted with "sorry, I'm not attending WTM this year".
Decision-makers from across Africa will be watching closely to see if there is a reversal in the attendance figures from the UK Africa trade. If not, we sense that the role of the show will be very much in the spotlight, yet again. Our clients spend the better part of £1/2m at WTM (excluding flights and accommodation) so we have been advocating a changed strategy for a number of years now, both by exhibitors and by Reed, the organisers.
Reed have introduced events like Borderless (for influencers), but have they really engaged with the UK's trade to encourage attendance? Have they looked to lure back major private sector exhibitors as well as tourism boards? What new marketing have you seen in the last 6 months from them?
And with costs of £500/day to vacuum and whisk a cleaning cloth around a stand at the end of a day, Reed should also consider the negative impact their ancillary sales have on exhibitors willingness to participate.
I secretly hope that WTM storms it this year, with double the number of UK operators visiting all seven stands occupied by Kamageo partners. Sadly, I'm not so confident. Please let me be wrong. I'm keen to hear your thoughts.......
Tim Henshall, Chief Executive