The 2024 PATA Annual Summit gets underway

The 2024 PATA Annual Summit gets underway

The annual summit of the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) – one of the regional travel industry’s most important conferences – kicked off in earnest at Cotai’s Grand Lisboa Palace today, with roundtable discussions, as well as the PATA chapter congress and a joint panel discussion with the World Tourism Cities Federation (WTCF) on the challenges and opportunities presented by the China travel market.

Thursday’s agenda followed a program yesterday of closed-door board meetings and invitation-only networking events.

Challenges faced by PATA members

The day began with an industry roundtable discussion, featuring some 40 delegates from as far afield as Finland and Nepal. A key topic of discussion was the drastically reduced role for travel agents. US travel and leisure consultant Gregory Cattoni said “All the brick and mortar stores are closed, everything is online. It’s very difficult.” Thai delegate Watana Limnararat agreed. Travellers, she said “have expectations of going to a website and booking by themselves.”

The high cost of travel post-pandemic was also felt to be a challenge faced by the travel trade. Guido Lloyd of Nuitee Travel Limited said: “For Thailand, prices are totally high. Before the pandemic, you could fly there from Europe for 25,000 baht, now it’s 60,000 baht. The increase in hotel rates, even for budget hotels, is so high it’s really impossible to attract long haul tourism.”

[See more: MGTO head speaks at a UN conference on women and sustainable tourism]

Sustainable tourism was another key theme. Anna Molander-Bry, of Finland’s Matka Travel Fair – the largest event of its kind for Nordic countries – said sustainability was “a big word but it means a lot and it takes a lot [to achieve].” She added: “It’s difficult to have the balance between sustainability and the growth of the tourism market. In some cases, the public sector is not quick enough, that is why the private sector must show what sustainable tourism is, because it is an economic issue for them.”

PATA sees opportunities in China as an inbound market

The joint panel discussion with the WTCF was a standing room only event, which “shows how much people are interested in China,” remarked Peter Semone, PATA’s chairman. 

He pointed out that China’s market was well known – in 2019, Chinese travellers made 134 million outbound trips and spent US$ 258 billion, or nearly twice as much as American holidaymakers – but invited delegates to think about the inbound opportunities presented by the world’s second most populous nation..

“China is not just a country – it’s a civilization that has so much to offer in terms of history and knowledge,” Semone said to a packed meeting room. “But China is misunderstood [by international travellers]. No one seems to understand it as a tourism destination. China struggles to communicate the great aspects that it has. Tourism is focused on just a few places: Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’An, Guilin.” 

[See more: China grants visa-free travel to six more European countries

Zhang Jing, a consultant with the Beijing Municipal Culture and Tourism Bureau, said China’s capital had been rolling out measures to lure greater numbers of foreign visitors.

“We’ve launched a new portal to encourage foreigners in Beijing to use social media to talk about living in the city, and help foreigners make appointments and so on,” Zhang said. China had also “made visa procedures easier and introduced visa-free measures to make travel more convenient, with a 144 hour visa-free policy for travellers from certain countries.” As well, China was allowing visa-free stays for cruise travellers and widening its payment ecosystem so that more foreign e-wallets and credit cards were accepted.

Delegates register for the 2024 PATA Annual Summit, being held at the Grand Lisboa Palace until 17 MayDelegates register for the 2024 PATA Annual Summit, being held at the Grand Lisboa Palace until 17 May
Delegates register for the 2024 PATA Annual Summit, being held at the Grand Lisboa Palace until 17 May

The work of PATA’s chapters

Delegates also attended a PATA Chapter Congress. Noor Ahmad Hamid, PATA’s CEO, noted that “chapters are an integral part of the association, but how do we move forward?”

For Jonathan Low, an executive committee member of PATA Malaysia, the answer lay in greater networking. “The pandemic has been tough for everyone,” he said. “So we are in the process of increasing the membership but it is always about the value proposition. We must organise things for the industry, networking, and engage with the industry.”

[See more: Six apps you need for your next trip to Macao]

Cattoni, who is the acting chair of PATA San Diego, said closer cooperation was key in an age of rising costs. “As PATA people, we’ve had to circle the wagons,” he said, “because costs are brutal. The good thing is we’re very close knit.”

A full agenda for the PATA Annual Summit in Macao

Delegates participating in a “Power of Networking” session at the PATA Annual Congress on 15 May at the Grand Lisboa PalaceDelegates participating in a “Power of Networking” session at the PATA Annual Congress on 15 May at the Grand Lisboa Palace
Delegates participating in a “Power of Networking” session at the PATA Annual Congress on 15 May at the Grand Lisboa Palace

The afternoon’s sessions began with formal welcomes from Semone, and addresses by Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes of the Macao Government Tourism Organisation (MGTO), as well as Daisy Ho, the managing director of SJM Resorts.

“PATA and its flagship event have always been important to us and our stakeholders to grow and develop the tourism industry in Asia Pacific,” Senna Fernandes told delegates. “The event offers an invaluable opportunity to show the new dynamics of Macao as a world centre of tourism and leisure after the pandemic.”

She added that the conference was being held during a “momentous year” for Macao. “Our tourism industry recovery is in full swing. Moving forward in the post-pandemic era, Macao is [working to] create synergies to diversify our economy.” 

Meanwhile, Ho said that “The one key takeaway” from the Covid-19 pandemic “is the interconnectedness of our world. We are not just one industry, we are a connected global community sharing one planet.” She said that the industry’s recovery “speaks volumes about the resilience of tourism.”

[See more: Foreign cruise tour groups can now enter China’s coastal provinces visa-free]

Semone drew attention to PATA’s long history with Macao. “The MGTO has been one of our most valuable partners, having been a member of our association since 1958,” he said, adding that the organisation had “conferred the highest honour, PATA life membership, to many influential people in Macao.” 

The PATA chairman added that “This year’s event only reaffirms our enduring partnership. As we convene in this remarkable setting, we are reminded of the transformative power of tourism.” He praised the summit’s “open and animated discussion,” and invited delegates to “celebrate each other’s differences, sharpen our thinking, and most importantly, as merchants of fun, have fun at the PATA Annual Summit at the Grand Lisboa Palace.”

Looking into the future of Asia-Pacific tourism

Members of PATA’s executive board hold a meeting during the 2024 PATA Annual Summit in MacaoMembers of PATA’s executive board hold a meeting during the 2024 PATA Annual Summit in Macao
Members of PATA’s executive board hold a meeting during the 2024 PATA Annual Summit in Macao

The impact of global and market trends occupied much of the afternoon’s discussions.

Andrew Staples, the editorial director of Economist Impact, predicted that the global economy would grow at about 2.4 percent in 2024, with Asia contributing “around 60 percent of global GDP growth. The middle class is expanding. People have more disposable income. This is one of the reasons why we see this growth story continuing in Asia.” 

He added that one of “the biggest risks we ought to be thinking about” were the impact of an US election victory for Donald Trump. “You can begin to think about if it’s a Trump administration, if it’s a Biden administration, how will that affect my business?” Staples also warned of the less desirable effects of the widespread adoption of AI, as well as “the politicisation of technology and techno-nationalism.” 

In a panel discussion on marketing and branding in Asia-Pacific tourism, guests talked about how shifts in the market had affected their businesses. The MGTO’s Senna Fernandes said “Pre- and post-pandemic, we see different trends emerging,” of which one of the most notable was the shift away from group tours. “In 2019, 8 million people visited Macao on group tours. Last year, out of 28 million visitors, only about 1.2 million were on group tours. Tourism operators need to diversify their packages to be more specific for different types of travellers,” she said.

[See more: Macao is on track to welcome two million foreign visitors this year, MGTO says]

Dane Cheng, the executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, said that Hong Kong  was “almost last place to re-open to travellers” after the pandemic and that it could no longer rely on shopping as a major draw because “People are looking for value for money.” He added that this affected the city’s famous dining scene as well. “People will queue up for hours for a bowl of noodles” rather than visit “a three-star restaurant.” 

Reaching customers was also more challenging, Cheng said. “It’s more complex and difficult. You have to promote directly to consumers. There are many different social media platforms to use for different audiences. Everyone is a blogger. Everyone can post their own thing.”

Senna Fernandes agreed. “Before you could put out a simple advertisement and the job was done. Now you need to think about what new content to put out every day. You have to give a lot of reasons for people to spend their time and their money in your destination.”

In a late-afternoon panel entitled “Future-Proofing Travel and Tourism Policies,” the importance of sustainability was mentioned. Raki Phillips, the CEO of the UAE’s Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, said that the emirate had achieved “60 percent reduction in food waste, 24 percent reduction in energy and 26 percent reduction in carbon emissions” in spite of needing “air conditioning every day of the year.”

He added: “We are the first certifiable sustainable destination in the region. For a country like the UAE that’s so oil-rich, that is a big differentiating factor.”

The 2024 PATA Annual Summit is being held from 15 to 17 May and marks the second time the event has been held in Macao, with the first being in 2005.

Macao News is an official media partner of the 2024 PATA Annual Summit.

With reporting by Craig Sauers

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