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The idea for this issue’s cover story, “Asia Uncovered,” comes, in part, from a roundtable discussion we hosted recently in the TravelAge West office. Representatives from several Asian tourism offices stopped by to discuss travel trends and share tips for travel agents. It was a lively and interesting discussion — and we also had a few good laughs. Most important, we ended up with a clear picture of the triumphs and challenges of selling Asian destinations.
At one point, I asked our visitors what they would like to tell travel agents about getting help from their tourism offices.
“After all,” I said, “you probably can’t help every agent who needs a hand.”
The room went silent, and the representatives looked at me like I was crazy.
Actually, they explained, they are more than willing to help any agent who asks for help. While they have other responsibilities, these dedicated representatives see educating travel agents — even one at a time — as an important aspect of their job.
“When a person visits Hong Kong and has the trip of their life, there’s a good chance they’ll return again,” said Bill Flora, director of the U.S. for Hong Kong Tourism Board. “And they also end up being responsible for a lot more visitors just because of word-of-mouth. So each visitor is really important to us.”
The tourism office representatives know they have a range of information that even the best agents would be hard-pressed to match.
“We see visitors to Japan now that want to try diving or go skiing — or maybe they are really into anime,” said Yohko Scott, manager for Japan National Tourism Organization. “It’s hard for agents to become experts in everything, so the more we can help, the better it is for everyone.”
In particular, tourism offices can provide agents with assistance when they are searching for that holy grail of trip planning — the off-the-beaten-path, insider tip.
“Many times, agents already have an idea,” said Lert Narongchaisakun, marketing officer for Tourism Authority of Thailand. “They just need a little bit of guidance or confirmation. And that’s what we provide.”