ASTA Takes Hong Kong

Top picks for ASTA in Hong Kong

By: By Kenneth Shapiro

HONG KONG Bev Zukow, chair of ASTA’s World Travel Congress, Sept. 28 to Oct. 3, is looking out a large picture window at Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor. She’s watching an ancient-looking junk drift by, profiled against the hyper-modern skyline.

“I love it here,” Zukow, who is also president and owner of First Travel of California in Villa Park, Calif., says smiling. “I can’t wait to show it to other travel agents.”

It’s been a long day touring hotels, meeting with the city’s tourism officials and now checking on preparations at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. The day has provided just a glimpse into what Zukow and her team have been up against for months now in planning this event. It’s amazing that at the end of the day Zukow can still sound enthusiastic about it all.

“It’s a great opportunity,” she explains, “for agents, for the city, for Asia even. I think people will be talking about this one long after it’s over.” The timing of ASTA’s Hong Kong congress does seem especially fortuitous. Not only is Hong Kong coming back very strong after the SARS outbreak of 2003 (with double-digit growth reported for the first part of this year), but everyone in the travel industry seems to be talking about the strength of China as a tourism destination for the 21st century.

Not only is China safe for foreign tourists, but the culture is exotic, the history is rich, the accommodations are generally world-class and the dollar is strong. And when you include interest in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, it seems a given that travel agents everywhere should be educating themselves about the country and how to sell it.

“We’re going to give agents an opportunity to learn about China and the rest of Asia at a time when they really need to have this information,” said Liz Culkin, ASTA’s vice president of meetings, conventions and trade shows, one of the key figures behind the Congress. “That’s in addition to the tremendous educational and networking opportunities the Congress provides.”

Culkin also points out the large number of pre- and post-Congress trips that are available. These trips will take in most of Asia, including Japan, Korea, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as trips to just about every region of China.

“Hong Kong is considered the ‘Gateway to Asia’ and we’re taking advantage of that,” Zukow said. “Location. Destination. Education. That’s what we’ve built this Congress around.”

And what about SARS fears? Are there any contingency plans in case of an outbreak?

“No,” Zukow answered flat-out. “We’re 100 percent committed to having this Congress here. I don’t see us canceling.”

American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)

800-275-2782, 703-739-8795