ATA’s 40th Annual World Congress

I’ve attended travel trade conferences aplenty over the years, but ATA’s World Congress has set the bar in terms of programme content and quality speakers, writes Des Langkilde.

The Africa Travel Association (ATA) 40th Annual World Congress held in Nairobi, Kenya from 9 – 14 November, proved to be an eye opener.

H.E. Deputy President of Kenya, William Samoei arap Ruto, opening the ATA 40th Annual Congress.
H.E. Deputy President of Kenya, William Samoei arap Ruto, opening the ATA 40th Annual Congress.

The six day programme was certainly jam packed, kicking off with an optional pre-conference tour of Nairobi National Park and a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust during the morning of day one. The afternoon consisted of a series of professional development breakout sessions built around topical plenaries, panels, and sessions convened at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre from 1:00pm through to 4:50pm.

Delegates had the opportunity to choose between five marketing or five product development topics, which ran concurrently with each session lasting for 30 minutes. I kept jumping across to hear all 10 sessions lest I miss anything – talk about information overload!

For example, did you know that Kenya’s Community Tourism sector is comprised of 38% Attractions, 26% Accommodation (Homestays & Community Lodges), and 32% Activities (camel walks, spilanking, etc). I guess the remaining 4% is uncategorised, but these were the stats divulged by the Director of Kenya Community Based Tourism Networks, Ole Taiko Lemayian.

In another session titled ‘Maximising Media Exposure’ speaker Juergen Thomas Steinmetz of eTurbo News explained how earning media is more economical than buying a string of ads. His assertion is that content marketing outperforms conventional display advertising, and that destination marketing bodies are wasting their budget spend by contracting public relations companies to write press releases that never get published. It’s far more economical, he said, to earn the publishers loyalty by splitting the budget spend between publishers and PR companies. I couldn’t agree more!

I won’t go into a blow-by-blow account of each day’s programme (if you really want to see the full schedule with speakers click here). Suffice to say that each day was packed with insightful and useful information shared by carefully selected experts in their particular field of tourism expertise, a lot of which will be published in future editions of Tourism Tattler.

Most of the travel trade conferences that I’ve attended in the past average around 2.5 days in duration, but the six-day ATA Congress format makes a lot more sense.

Firstly, it allows time for off-site product visits to be included in the programme – in this regard the Kenya Tourism Board as the destination host did a sterling job.

Secondly, the six-day format provides more opportunities for delegates to network during tea and lunch breaks, at evening functions, and during off-site excursions – after all, networking is one of the major reasons that delegates register to attend.

In terms of networking, I was amazed that there were not more tour operators from other African countries in attendance. Considering that there were a large number of ATA member buyers from the USA and other key inbound markets to Africa, this Congress provided a perfect opportunity to meet them.

Notable in this regard is a comment made by one of ATA’s USA outbound travel agent members, who said “After attending last years ATA Congress in Uganda and meeting the local tour operators who were present, I felt far more confident in doing business with them, especially in terms of doing bank transfers for booking deposits, and knowing that my clients will be in good hands when they arrive at their destination in Africa.”

Overall, ATA’s 40th Congress was a resounding success, and the Kenya Tourism Board did a sterling job in showcasing the country’s tourism attractions, both during the event and in hosting of the 20 invited media journalists on post-event FAM trips.

The 41st ATA World Congress will be held in Kigali, Rwanda from 28 to 31 August 2017. Tourism Tattler is a media partner to this event, which you can register to attend at See you there!

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