Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Global Tourism Summit Begins in Vegas

Vegas Inc: It’s been called “the Olympics of the tourism industry.”

For the host city – Las Vegas in this case – it has the potential to be an economic windfall. For the global tourism industry, it’s a significant gathering to hash out the issues of the day.

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s 11th annual Global Travel & Tourism Summit opens at CityCenter’s Aria resort this week, bringing the industry’s top executives to a Las Vegas stage. The event opened Tuesday, but most of the activities will be Wednesday and Thursday.

The event organized by the London-based council is making only its second appearance in North America. The summit was in Washington in 2006 and in previous years, it has been staged in Brazil, Dubai, Portugal, India, Qatar and China.

By Las Vegas standards, the show is small with only about 1,000 attending. But the stature of the participants is off the charts, making it one of the most significant business events ever brought to Southern Nevada. Among the participants in panels and keynote addresses are Felipe Calderon, the president of Mexico; Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood; Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano; and Ted Turner, chairman of Turner Enterprises.

"We’re happy to be in Las Vegas this year and one of the keys will be showcasing travel and tourism to the U.S. administration,” said David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council in a telephone briefing this morning. Scowsill said solving problems with visa restrictions that impede travelers from coming to the United States would be a key topic at the conference, which has the theme “Powering Global Growth.”

Experts estimate that there will be 2 billion new consumers that will be able to afford international travel in the next decade, most of them in China, India, Brazil and Russia. The Chinese government has considered travel and tourism one of the five key pillars of the Chinese economy, Scowsill said, and 25 new airports are being built in that country.

The U.S. Commerce Department has estimated that travel to the United States would increase by 40 percent from Brazil, 150 percent from China and 110 percent from India in the next nine years. But the failure to have an adequate visa approval process, particularly in Brazil and China, has bottlenecked the process of enabling visitors and business people from coming to the United States.

Among other topics to be addressed will be the role of tourism in a new world of security, investments in the growth of tourism in a fragile capital structure, the role of business travel in the current economy, the role and growth of digital marketing and the recovery of tourism in Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and another participant in today’s briefing, said Las Vegas should be proud to play host to such a prestigious event. “I think the fact that this is being held in Las Vegas is a testament to what our city does in several areas of travel and tourism,” Ralenkotter said. “It’s not only a leading leisure destination, but it’s a place to conduct business.”

Ralenkotter said the event would have a non-gaming economic impact of about $1 million, but the long-term benefit will be to put Las Vegas on the international stage with travel and tourism media focused on the city this week.

He said the LVCVA has a goal of increasing international tourism to Las Vegas to 30 percent of the city’s visitors within 10 years. Currently, about 18 percent of those visiting the city are from foreign countries.

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