International Pow Wow to Miami 'perfect timing' in light of economic recession
By Scott E. Pacheco
It's like speed-dating, except the deals that go down during International Pow Wow's 15-minute business meetings are worth billions in travel business.
"This is so focused on buying and selling — the buses back to the hotels aren't running during the appointments," said William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Buying and selling — that's the reason they are here."
But for Miami, the show is more than just brochures and booths. Hosting the show for the third time in 15 years (1994, 1999), locals are well aware of the impact the US Travel Association event has on the host city.
"Frankly, I would pay for them to come to my hotel," said John Visconti, director of sales and marketing with the Hyatt Regency Miami.
Mr. Visconti said the economic impact for his hotel alone will be in the "million-dollar range"
"The positive economic impact is very powerful," he said. "It's an opportunity to add 20%-30%-40% to my existing base of wholesalers."
International Pow Wow is the largest generator of Visit USA travel with about $4 billion worth of future travel expected to be booked during its May 16-20 run. The thousands of attendees include journalists and travel industry delegates from more than 70 countries. Greater Miami expects an influx of about $400 million in travel in coming years as a result of Pow Wow, now in its 41st year.
Last year, Las Vegas hosted the event and it helped the city expand its reach around the globe, said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, via e-mail.
"As the host city for Pow Wow 2008, Las Vegas had a unique opportunity to showcase all of its resorts, amenities and exciting offerings to a valuable audience of more than 5,000 attendees from more than 70 countries, and generate future travel to the destination," he said. "Expanding our brand throughout the world and growing our international market is a priority."
Mr. Talbert said the event is like no other.
"There really is no other show, and that's why this really is a coveted event," he said. "These are the top buyers in US travel from each country that is here. These are not travel agents — they have to earn their way into Pow Wow."
That means the event's arrival is "perfect timing" considering the recession in which South Florida has been mired, Mr. Talbert said, adding that it also allows a newer Miami to be showcased to the world.
"In the 10 years since Pow Wow has been here this destination has really matured," he said. "We are focusing on that in terms of new terminals at the airport, new hotels, new restaurant menus… South Beach reinvents itself all the time. The destination presents itself as newer, better, more sophisticated."
Even before buyers reach the shores of South Florida, they are requesting appointments with suppliers, including the visitors bureau and hotels. During Pow Wow, the buyers and suppliers will meet in seemingly rapid-fire 15-minute sessions for three days.
While "15 minutes may not seem like a lot of time," it's a tried-and-true formula that the buyers and sellers are used to thriving in, said Rolando Aedo, senior vice president of marketing and tourism with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"It's a highly vetted group, a highly competitive group," he said. "It truly is the movers and shakers."
When it comes to making deals with the hotels, wholesalers in the travel industry are to make deals for blocks of rooms at favorable rates. They then will tack on their fees and run the rooms through travel agencies in their markets.
That marketing reach into dozens of other countries more than offsets the dealing of rooms at lower rates.
"I cannot afford to have market representation in all the countries," Mr. Visconti said. "I would never, ever have the marketing reach into their countries that they do."
Unlike the US, much of the world still relies on travel agents, Mr. Aedo said.
"These are the ones who sell to the retail travel agencies," he said. "Because of the way travel is bought and sold, the consumers do rely much more than in the US on the travel agents."
Mr. Visconti said every one of the more than 40 meeting slots has been filled at the Hyatt booth, which will represent at least 40 hotels from the chain.
The difference between Miami and hundreds of other destinations represented at the event is that after the wheeling and dealing is finished, delegates will do such things as head over to the Miami Seaquarium to swim with the dolphins, stroll through Little Havana on Calle Ocho, visit the Coral Castle in Homestead, visit the Everglades and ride an airboat, and enjoy a day at the beach.
"While everyone will be showcasing their destination in what are probably very nice brochures," Miami will be offering a hands-on experience, said the Convention & Visitors Bureau's Mr. Aedo, adding that about 30 sightseeing events are planned for delegates and journalists. A complete list of events can be found at PowWowMiami.com.
And on May 18, A Taste of Miami event will allow delegates to choose to visit either Coconut Grove or Coral Gables to shop, eat and enjoy their surroundings.
"We take this mission to heart as far as showcasing the destination," Mr. Aedo said. "We try to get to all key parts of the community — prioritize the ones that the tour promoters can sell."
In addition to the sites, efforts are under way to make sure everyone from taxi drivers to hotel concierges to the public understands how important Pow Wow is for the destination.
"We are engaging the community in ways that we haven't in the past," Mr. Talbert said.
Efforts include giving cards in multiple languages to taxi drivers that say why Pow Wow passengers are important to the community. There's also a pep rally Monday at the Miami Beach Convention Center for Miami Beach residents and hospitality industry employees.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau has also been doing customer service training sessions with the 14 host hotels, in partnership in Miami Dade College. Bureau staff is to stay at the host hotels to staff hospitality events and supplement concierges, with an emphasis on matching up the languages spoken by the delegations with those of staff.
And, at Miami International Airport, the bureau has done training with airport employees and dedicated signage is to be put up for Pow Wow participants.
Kimberly Wilson, area general manager of the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay, said her hotel is running in "mid-80s" in occupancy percentage during the peak of Pow Wow — another way the trade show is paying off.
"Just from the sheer reach that you get — that's the reason there is no other trade show like it," she said. "You're just reaching so far and wide."