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Pow Wow in Miami: U.S. Sellers Meeting with 1,500 Travel Buyers
 from 70 Countries, Hoping to Book $4 billion in Business


By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 18, 2009--Fort Lauderdale showed off its "Immersadome," offering seated guests a 3-D audio-visual tour complete with special effects, like wind in your face during an Everglades Airboat ride and floral aromas at a spa.

Madame Tussaud's wax museum of New York featured a life-size replica of President Barack Obama, prompting visitors to line up and smile for photographs.

America's travel destinations are putting their best foot forward this week at the largest convention for tourism to the United States, eager to lure more international visitors at a time of drooping domestic travel. More than 1,000 U.S. travel groups are taking part in Pow-Wow, held for the first time in a decade in Miami Beach.

The U.S. sellers are meeting with about 1,500 travel buyers from some 70 countries, who are expected to book about $4 billion in business from the event, according to organizers from the U.S. Travel Association.

As the host community, South Florida hopes to gain handily, earning ample publicity from more than 300 travel writers and a boost in tourism -- perhaps 10 percent of show bookings over the next three years, said Bill Talbert, president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That explains why Miami worked with U.S. border authorities to set up designated processing lines at the airport for international visitors to Pow-Wow, a first that officials hope can be repeated for other major events.

"For years, we've said we can really increase tourism to the United States and Miami if we can only improve the miserable entry process" adopted Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Talbert said. "This is a real breakthrough."

Pow-Wow carries special weight for South Florida, because the area depends on foreign travelers more than most U.S. destinations. Last year, international travelers made up 48 percent of overnight visitors to Miami-Dade County, at least 20 percent in Broward and up to 10 percent in Palm Beach counties, officials said.

Some hotels rely on foreign business even more. At the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, golfers from Holland, Germany, Canada and other nations make up about 60 percent of leisure business, up from 15 percent several years ago before its international marketing push, said Leslie Ireland, manager of golf leisure sales.

But global recession is crimping international travel too, prompting foreign visitors to seek more value like Americans. The Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau is pushing its "Founder's Package" at Pow-Wow, honoring a century since the county's launch with a final hotel night for $19.09 after a multi-night stay. Greater Fort Lauderdale's bureau touts specials on its websites, with discounts on restaurants and shopping.

"This is a great time to come to America for your customers," Eric Danzinger, chief executive of the Wyndham Hotel Group told a convention luncheon, because right now, America is a true bargain."

Roberto Nadalini, who heads up U.S. travel for Italian tour operator Kuoni in Genoa, said he's seeking out both value packages and special experiences for his clients, such as cultural tours, as fewer Italians travel amid Europe's recession. His U.S. business is off about 20 percent so far this year, reversing last year's gains. Miami and Orlando are among the top sellers, but Fort Lauderdale is little known, he said.

"South Beach and its art deco scene has stolen away from other destinations in Florida," said Nadalini, who helped about 18,000 Italians visit America last year.

But strong cruise business remains a draw to the Broward city, noted Jaime Fast, a tour operator from Monterrey, Mexico, with some international travelers staying before and after their voyage, he said.

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Copyright (c) 2009, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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