ETOA Launches Destinations Exchange Europe
ETOA launched Destinations Exchange Europe at the Hilton London Metropole on Monday 12th June amidst widespread optimism that inbound travel to Europe is in full recovery.
Over 350 people attended an event where over 100 destinations across Europe met with operators and intermediaries who work in global markets. Volumes were moving back to 2019 levels, particularly from North America where many operators were reporting volumes above pre-pandemic levels. Asia – particularly China and Japan – remains subdued, but recovery is expected in the fourth quarter of 2023.
Amongst the over 10,000 appointments between buyers and suppliers, there were break-out sessions concentrating on the issues that face the industry now that recovery is underway. It was the biggest in-person member consultation conducted for five years.
The first issue was how to maximise the benefit that tourism can bring to an area. ETOA clients, broadly, are cultural visitors. Operators were keen to work with destinations to see how lesser-known areas and products could be promoted. This had to be balanced with the need to furnish clients with what they think they want. You cannot exclude the cities and attractions that people feel they have to see, but operators need USP; these lie in lesser known areas and features.
Secondly, there are concerns at the perception of group tourism. “Populist” measures are being canvassed in destinations, seemingly fuelled by prejudice and misperception. This was felt particularly in the area of group travel. Coaches reduce congestion, help cut emissions and provide cities with high value visitors in a manageable form. This is not how they are perceived or treated.
Thirdly there was real concern at the shortage of skills throughout the industry. It was inevitable that there would be difficulties: large numbers had to seek employment outside the sector three years ago. It was always going to be tough to attract them back. In an inflationary environment there is added a driving insistence on increased pay.
With the return of demand we are seeing a shortage of supply. This is felt both in hotels, with some city destinations now effectively “full” for the summer and in attractions. How businesses can co-ordinate demand and supply – particularly when dealing with large volumes of people – with ticketing systems is similarly a hotly debated issue.
“This recovery is a recovery, and has to be celebrated,” said Tom Jenkins of ETOA. “But it remains partial and – like all rapid improvements – is displaying atypical symptoms. Some markets are up, others subdued; some destinations are seeing a full recovery, others not. Some of these problems being aired may work themselves out over the next one to two years. Others are more structural, but are symptom of success, so even these are to be welcomed.
Our members strive to bring high-value clients to destinations. It is vital that everyone regards them as such.”
ETOA was founded in 1989 as an association for tour operators who sold Europe as a destination in long-haul origin markets. It has evolved since those early days to embrace regional operators, online intermediaries, wholesale travel companies and any commercial player who is interested in selling themselves as part of a pan-European product. It now numbers over 1100 members, including nearly 400 intermediaries and operators.