ATF 2024 keeps it small, but impactful

The recently-concluded TRAVEX B2B exhibition, an integral component of the annual ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), attracted what attendees felt was a small turnout this year, gathering just 34 booths with 208 sellers from 105 companies along with 70 hosted buyers from regional and longhaul markets, 130 trade visitors, and 26 international media.

This compares against 350 delegates and more than 50 media representatives at ATF 2022, and 463 delegates and 50 media representatives at ATF 2023 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

ATF 2024, held in Laos last month, saw a small but promising turnout

TRAVEX, along with ATF 2024 and ASEAN Tourism Conference (ATC), was held in Vientiane, Laos from January 22 to 26. It was co-organised by the ASEAN Tourism Association (ASEANTA) and Lao PDR Ministry of Information, Communication and Tourism (MICT).

Despite ASEANTA positioning ATF as a “premier tourism event”, and ASEANTA president Eddy Krismeidi Soemawilaga speaking of “a more robust and rejuvenated ATF”, Singapore and Brunei skipped the exhibition.

Soemawilaga acknowledged: “We are fully aware that change takes time, and this year’s scale may not match the peak of ATF’s history.”

In response to TTG Asia’s queries on Singapore’s absence, Kwan Su Min, director, communications, Singapore Tourism Board (STB), said that Singapore regularly reviews participation in all tradeshows to ensure that “we are maximising our impact and achieving our strategic objectives”.

“While we may not have physical presence at TRAVEX this year, our industry stakeholders and regional offices continue to maintain regular and close contact with many ASEAN travel trade partners in the course of their daily operations,” she added.

Although TRAVEX 2024 was deemed small, the overall event was well aligned with the theme, Quality and Responsible Tourism – Sustaining ASEAN Future, delivering content that avoided mass tourism and series tours.

So, while hosted buyers from big markets were scant – only a few from China and one from India – it was opportune for those keen on ecotourism, special interest travel, and new places and activities.

Sidney Chua, operations manager of Neway Travel Service, Singapore, said: “TRAVEX organisers have been doing what they can to help put destinations on the map and ATF 2024, though small, did just that. Laos can expect an influx of enquiries and travellers soon, and perhaps small incentive groups if combined with Thailand.”

American tour wholesaler Michal Barszap, president/CEO of I.T.S. Tours & Travel, said: “You can’t package and promote destinations well without visiting. I gave up FITUR to attend ATF because I have never been to Laos.”

Barszap’s only complaints were the long flight – “40 hours flying SFO-LAX-MUC-TPE-BKK-VTE” and his failed attempt to enter a post-tour despite applying early.

This year’s ATC was extended to 1.5 days and packed in insightful presentations and panel discussions centred on the ATF theme. Social events hosted by Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines were also lavish and provided many networking opportunities.

Delegates commended the Laotians for their hospitality and effort, although getting to Vientiane was not easy due to few direct flights and frequencies, and processes that were not always well-oiled.

They recognise this was the challenge for ASEANTA and ATF: rotational hosting pits slick business cities against emerging destinations that do not have the wherewithal to manage huge events. Parallel government and association meetings across town also strain lean resources.

Delegates also pondered over the timing of ATF: held typically in January or February, dates are affected by the Lunar New Year holidays and ministerial schedules. The event also clashes with FITUR in Madrid, leading potential buyers and sellers to weigh the cost benefits, given the number of trade shows and rising costs.

Meanwhile, ASEANTA has announced ATF 2025 will be held in Johor, Malaysia.

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