International meeting will have 6,000-plus travel agents calling on Miami
By Frank Norton
For the first time in 14 years, Greater Miami's hospitality industry will be able to flaunt sites and products to an expected 6,000-plus visiting travel agents.
In October, the American Society of Travel Agents' World Travel Congress, considered a top travel conference, will convene on Miami Beach. For the first time, the congress will tie into the society's annual Cruisefest East.
"The importance of this is tremendous," said Stuart Blumberg, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. "It's thousands of travel agents coming to Miami that will later book this destination to others."
The annual travel congress - with members from 140 nations - features exhibits, tours and workshops. Cruisefest, also held yearly, offers seminars and local ship inspections.
This year the congress, which last met in Miami-Dade County in the late 1980s, offers local hospitality promoters a chance to advertise a radically more mature all-around destination, Mr. Blumberg said.
He noted hotels that have either opened or are under way that weren't around the last time the event came here, including a Four Seasons, JW Marriott, Mandarin Oriental and two Ritz-Carltons.
"If you came here 14 years ago you wouldn't have seen all that. You also wouldn't have seen South Beach as we know it today, or the performing arts center and (the new) Parrot Jungle coming out of the ground," he said.
The 73rd ASTA World Travel Congress Oct. 21-24 at the Miami Beach Convention Center should draw 5,000 visitors, said Mary Peters, event chair. Then, ASTA's Cruisefest East is Oct. 24-26, drawing an additional 1,500, said Ms. Peters, also president of Friendly Travel, an American Express franchise in Alexandria, VA.
"Miami makes sense," she said. "It's the world cruise capital and it has everything else we need in order to produce a spectacular congress."
She said the travel industry nationwide has repositioned Greater Miami more broadly than it was - a sign its cultural and ecological assets have matured into viable selling points.
"There's a huge benefit to the location because of the exposure this event brings," Ms. Peters said. "Travel business goes up everywhere we go, every time we hold this event."
Because of its audience of sales agents, the travel congress can generate vastly more business than other convention bookings.
"Any time you get a chance to sell an area to the group responsible for booking future business here you have the potential make an enormous positive impact," said Ken Samuels, marketing manager with Miami-Dade based Meeting Events & Conference Coordinators.
"Events like these also get written up in the trade journals, and that's a lot of exposure for future business," he said.
"It's important because they're sales people who can sell our destination," said Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO William Talbert III, "...and there was a time in the early '90s when travel agencies wouldn't sell us," due to perceptions of crime and other problems.