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Pow Wow Brought 4,700 People to Anaheim; 
Sponsors Spent $5 million to Host Event
County Could See $350M in Travel Business

By Sandi Cain, Orange County Business Journal Staff

May 2007 - Last week, Anaheim hosted more than 4,700 people from around the world who came to see for themselves why Orange County and surrounding areas are a worthwhile destination for international tour groups. The convention, called Pow Wow, is an annual event put on by Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association. It was the first time the convention was held in Anaheim.

Event costs aren’t cheap.

About 44 tourism-related businesses in OC spent about $5 million to host the event. The Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau alone kicked in $1.3 million. The city of Anaheim and South Coast Plaza also were big sponsors. 

The cost per person for the event is high, “but the return is worth it,” said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

International Focus

While networking opportunities and parties were plentiful, this convention was all about business—bringing visitors to the U.S. 

International tour operators attend Pow Wow to learn about what’s new and decide what they want to include in future U.S. tours. Cities compete fiercely to host Pow Wow because it gets big media attention.

The county stands to gain $350 million in future travel business from the convention during the next several years. Los Angeles, New York and Orlando—the past three hosts—saw similar bumps in business. Next year’s Pow Wow is in Las Vegas.

Official networking events last week were held at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, Disneyland Resort, Knott’s Berry Farm and the Anaheim Convention Center. 

There were 28 preconvention tours to places like Mission San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Beach, Bowers Museum, South Coast Plaza, Orange County Performing Arts Center and to Huntington Beach for a surfing safari.

Pow Wow brought 3,200 U.S. suppliers— sellers of products and services—from 180 destinations and 1,200 travel and tour buyers from 70 countries. There were 365 media representatives present—285 of them international. 

There were 1,100 booths at the trade show. As of early last week, 47,000 appointments between buyers and sellers had been scheduled or held.

In a preconvention survey of international attendees, all said the U.S. is an attractive destination for their markets. But 55% said the U.S. is less competitive than other countries in trying to attract visitors.

“International travelers expect countries to compete for their business,” said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts and National Chair of the Travel Industry Association. 

Despite the camaraderie of the delegates, the international attendees demonstrated why the U.S. is struggling to maintain its share of foreign visitors. The number of visitors to the U.S. from France and Germany alone declined 15% in 2006. The U.S. currently draws only one-half of 1% of the world community to its shores, according to Travel Industry Association President Roger Dow.

In at least four press conferences at the convention, the foreign press was vocal in its frustration with the current U.S. visa process and impeding biometric—fingerprints, etc.—entry requirements. 

Journalists from the U.K., Germany and the Middle East at one press conference said those policies result in their travelers choosing other destinations for vacation. 

Complaints ranged from insufficient consular offices to process visa requests and long waits at airport immigration stations to questioning the need for fingerprinting international travelers. Many concerned the behavior of immigration and security personnel.

Such questions were lobbed equally at officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State Consular Services, Visitor & Convention Bureaus and the California Travel & Tourism Commission—some of whom have no control over immigration policies. 

Government Reassurance

Government officials tried to reassure the audience that they are aware of the concerns and are working to resolve them. In some cities, video interviews for visa applications are under consideration. 

There also have been discussions with companies such as Walt Disney Co., Universal Studios Inc., Hilton Hotels Corp. and others about leveraging their expertise in the hospitality industry to help the government more efficiently manage lines at airports or to train workers about hospitality practices. 

Travel Industry Association leaders last year launched an effort to create the first official U.S. tourism marketing program. The campaign, Discover America, aims to work with government officials to resolve international concerns and regain the trust of foreign travelers. 

“We have to change the thinking in Washington, D.C., to see travel as an opportunity, not just as a risk,” said Discover America executive director Geoff Freeman. 

Sandi Cain is a freelance writer and contributor to the Orange County Business Journal and meetings industry publications. She specializes in hospitality, tourism and travel. Cain holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Kent State University in Ohio, where she majored in social studies. A former high school teacher, she has written for niche-market sports publications in the U.S., England and Australia and formerly worked in both the printing and high-tech industries. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Cain hasbeen a resident of Laguna Beach since the late ’70s. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spoiling her three cats.

Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA


Also See: Orlando Basking in Spotlight with 1,600 Travel Buyers from 70 Countries in Town for the Travel Industry Association of America's International Pow Wow / May 2006
Orange County California Tourism Set to Hit Another High Mark; Disneyland's 50th Anniversary Boosts Attendance, Hotel Room Rates / Sandi Cain / May 2006


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