Agent Named to Director's Seat at PATA

An 18-month-long effort to restructure the Pacific Asia Travel Association has been rounded off by appointing Jim Ferguson as director.

By: Lisa Jennings

Concluding months of transition for the U.S. chapters of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), travel agent Jim Ferguson last week was named director for North America.

Ferguson’s appointment, officially announced at the SoCal PATA general meeting in Los Angeles last week, caps an 18-month-long effort to restructure PATA all around the world; the organization began in 1951 as a body to help Pacific Asian nations develop tourism.

Over the years, PATA evolved into more of a business-to-business marketing organization. But in recent years the organization “lost its way,” said Peter Semone, PATA’s vice president at the association’s Bangkok headquarters, who was in Los Angeles last week.

“The whole system of travel and tourism was changing,” said Semone.

While the association will still handle marketing and development assistance, Semone said PATA will now focus efforts on advocacy, serving as the voice for Pacific Asian nations.

Ferguson was set to take up the position Aug. 1 at the PATA office in Oakland, Calif., though the association’s North American office will likely be moved to Los Angeles eventually to be closer to the U.S. offices of many member suppliers and national tourism offices.

The move will centralize operations for the 14 active chapters in North America.

Ferguson replaces former director Bill Hastings, who left the position in January after about four years. An agent who also served as sales director for Universal Travel Systems, Ferguson brings to the role 20 years of experience in the travel industry.

The appointment brings new leadership at a time when members are struggling to cope with the affects of the SARS outbreak.

PATA next month will launch Project Phoenix, a public relations campaign to bring tourists back to Pacific Asia. With about $2.5 million in funding and in-kind services, the campaign will include advertising in major U.S. newspapers. The ads will direct U.S. consumers to a Web site,, which in August will allow direct booking. Part of PATA’s new focus is to target consumers directly, said Semone.

The association also has a new partnership with Travelocity, which will feature Pacific Asian destinations with PATA and participating national tourism organizations providing content.

The Web site will also refer consumers to travel agents, but the details have not yet been worked out, said Paul Cohen, PATA’s consumer marketing advisor. One option is to use PATA specialists, but the program, launched about three years ago, never really took off. Instead, the Web site will likely refer to agents from specialist programs run by member nations, as well as PATA member agents. Or PATA may look for partnerships with the American Society of Travel Agents or a consortium, he said.

“The majority of travel to the region is still going to be booked through agents,” said Cohen.

PATA has also created an inter-Asia Web site, www., which will list hot deals, offer information on destinations, and, in the event of another crisis, travel advisories.