Taipei dismay as final curtain falls on Pata meetings
Anna Healy Fenton
The curtain has closed on what was announced as being the final annual Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) conference last week. There will be no event next year, when Taipei should be playing host.
Instead, a new leaner and shorter one or two-day annual business-focused talkfest centred on travel chief executives will be launched in 2008. 'Iconic speakers who inspire members' would feature in the new annual event's tight, pared-down schedule, the association said in Pattaya last week, adding that even finding two days was a challenge for many people.
Scrapping the annual conference was part of Pata's revision of its events strategy - evolution, not revolution, the association said.
It's unfortunate Taiwan and Sri Lanka, which had won the rights to stage the Pata conferences next year and in 2008, won't be able to do so. The bid process for the new think-tank will be redefined and reopened after the September board meeting in Hong Kong.
It all sounds very sensible. But more than one hotelier was heard wondering whether delegates from China - the region's most important travel market - might not have found it too politically sensitive to attend a conference in Taipei. Oops!
Locals and holidaymakers in Hainan, described by Britain's Guardian newspaper as the 'Hawaii of the Orient', should prepare themselves for a cultural revolution - the arrival of the British package tourist in search of sand, sea and sunburn.
British tour operator MyTravel Airtours is the first mass-market company to offer beach holidays in 'Madame Mao's holiday spot', with two-week trips to the 'palm-fringed island of Hainan, a former dumping ground for banished political dissidents'.
The holidays are described as an attempt to capitalise on an increasingly ambitious spirit among older holidaymakers who want to relax by the pool in unusual surroundings.
Flights will leave fortnightly from Manchester and Gatwick on a 15-hour journey via Bahrain to Sanya. Putonghua-speaking Airtours resort representatives would be on hand, Airtours' managing director Steve Barrass told the Guardian, adding: 'This is for the more adventurous holidaymakers who want a bit of hand-holding because they've got a few concerns about China.' The package will cost #1,239 ($17,542) per person.
Mr Barrass said some of the typical British sun-seeker activities would not be available: 'As far as showing Chelsea on a big screen and eating roast beef on a Sunday, I don't know if it will appeal to that market.'
China has risen in popularity among British travellers, although most are backpackers or on luxury tours. The Association of British Travel Agents says the number of British visitors to China rose from 61,000 in 1996 to 212,000 in 2004.
The Lonely Planet guide describes Hainan as having 'golden beaches, the promise of a deep tan and the thud of falling coconuts'.
Hopewell Holdings chairman Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung believes fervently in the much-discussed bridge linking Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau.
Sir Gordon told a seminar at the University of Science and Technology last week that the technical aspects of construction posed no problem.
'But there are some vested interests in Hong Kong who do not want to see the bridge built,' he said.
This will have caused mirth in Macau. The motoring time from Central to Hong Kong Disneyland is 40 minutes, but once the new bridge is built, the drive from Penny's Bay to Macau will be just 15 minutes. Welcome to Macau Disneyland.
At London's Heathrow airport last week, a hoarding proclaimed the imminent arrival of the new Airbus super jumbo on May 18. 'The A380 - expect the unexpected,' it boomed. Now 'unexpected' is not a comforting word in the context of aircraft, especially one that resembles a flying whale.
British Airports Authority marketing people should know never to tempt fate. When the very first Boeing 747 was due to land in London Airport decades ago, a similar sign read: 'You think this is good - you ain't seen nothing yet.' The waggish BBC television reporter was quick to retort: 'No, it's two hours late.'