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Guest columnist Phil Butler has been chatting to Sion Rapson, Director of Global Business for the WTA. Here he shares his insights into what's in store for travel in 2014

Among the most prestigious accolades a travel business can achieve, the World Travel Awards live up to the slogan ‘The Oscars’ of the travel industry.” The awards, voted for by 500,000 travel industry professionals across a multitude of disciplines, recognise excellence across every sector of the industry at events from Asia and the Americas to Europe and the Middle East.

By way of a short introduction to Sion Rapson, he’s a veteran marketing and business strategy expert in travel since working at the Financial Times, then with IATA corporate, and in various key roles at WTA. He travels extensively and his insights, as you’ll read below, coincide and amplify, in my view, recognised industry trends.

EFT: This year the WTA Grand Tour visits the world of travel from Africa to the Middle East, Europe, and far beyond. In your recent experience Sion, which region has seen the most significant change?

SR: The short answer there is the Middle East. We have seen such tremendous growth in some of the key markets there, from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The scale, vision, and ambition of some of the projects there are unrivalled anywhere else on earth; from the Palm Jumeirah, Yas Island, and Saadiyat Island through to the Burj Khalifa and Kingdom Tower.

The scale, vision, and ambition of some of the projects in the Middle East are unrivalled anywhere else on earth

With Dubai having also recently been awarded the honour of hosting Expo 2020 – the future also looks bright for the region.

We recently hosted our Middle East Gala Ceremony at JQ Marquis Dubai, with fantastic results. Over 600 industry leaders from across the region were on hand to celebrate, with guest of honour His Highness Sheikh Juma Bin Maktoum Bin Juma Al Maktoum also welcomed to the World Travel Awards Academy during the event.

EFT: Do you think the industry has bounced back, from an economic standpoint? Is there more or less interest in the awards this year?

SR: World Travel Awards is now in its 21st year. During more than two decades of growth we have seen lean periods, and it is no secret the last few years have been tough for a lot of organisations out there. However, perversely, this has worked in the interests of WTA. Organisations seek nominations at our Gala Ceremonies, realising the significant benefits a victory can bring – this has seen interest rise steadily over the years.

While Europe and North America are still recovering, the Middle East, as mentioned above, and also Asia are going from strength to strength. China, for example, is an exciting opportunity for a lot of tourism professionals, while we will host our Asia Gala Ceremony 2014 in New Delhi later this year as India continues to grow in importance.

EFT: On this, the 21st Anniversary of the World Travel Awards, what has changed the most about the world of travel?

SR: Speed. With mobile technology gaining ground by the month, everybody in the tourism industry needs to be quicker, more responsive and more aware of their competitors. There is no space to rest on one’s laurels now, if there ever was!

The internet, also, has allowed consumers a wealth of information which was previously unavailable to them. Sites like TripAdvisor have forced hotels, for example, to up their game, or face public consequences. These trends will only develop further in the coming years.

EFT: The World Golf Awards is debuting this year. Any thoughts, Sion, on where golf and sports vacationing is headed? Has golf focused tourism recovered from the recession yet? What’s will the next great golf resort look like?

SR: Sports tourism is one of the few areas which was largely unaffected by the recent economic slowdown in some quarters. South Africa was able to catapult itself up tourism league tables on the back of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, welcoming hundreds of thousands to guests to destinations they would perhaps have been unaware of. London, too, scored a big hit with the 2012 Olympic Games, seeing visitor numbers spike during the event, and a creating a glow which is still evident now, nearly two years later.

World Golf Awards, and also World Ski Awards, are World Travel Awards’ attempt to capture some of the enthusiasm of these markets. World Golf Awards, set for in November at the Conrad Algarve, will see us recognise some of the leading golf resorts from around the world. Virtually no other international organisation is seeking to do this at present, and we are very excited about the launch.

Also in November, A-Rosa Kitzbühel will host the second World Ski Awards. The launch last year generated a great deal of interest among the leaders of the ski industry and the 2014 event is set to be even bigger. Skiing is definitely an area to keep an eye on when it comes to sports holidays in the coming years, with resorts in Asia growing to match those of the Alps in Europe.

EFT: Turning to the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio, can you see the surge already in growth for South America in luxury travel Sion?

SR: Brazil still faces many challenges ahead of both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. As we have seen from struggles in preparing the stadiums, these events are not undertaken lightly. That said, the benefits of a successful event are clear for all to see. Following on from the success of London 2012, Rio de Janeiro can expect to welcome hundreds of thousands of new visitors, all of whom are likely to be wowed by what is on offer there.

Panama is spending a great deal of cash on its tourism offering, coming from nowhere to become one of the leading lights of the region.

Latin America as a whole is also coming of age in terms of tourism figures. Panama, for example, is spending a great deal of cash on its tourism offering, coming from nowhere to become one of the leading lights of the region. We were in Peru last year for our South & Central America Gala Ceremony and were very impressed with the strides the destination has made, particularly in terms of the cuisine on offer there. This year we will visit Quito, Ecuador, for the event. Following the successes of last year, hopes are very high for another great event.

EFT: Lastly Sion, what’s your best advice for the new travel industry professional?

SR: I think this applies to any sector or role, but don’t settle for a job that you are not passionate about.  Think big, think global, don’t be afraid to take risks and always act with integrity.

Phil Butler is editor-in-chief of Everything PR News, CEO of Argophilia the online travel development company, and co-editor of Argophilia Travel News. He’s widely cited on beta startups, search engines and marketing, and a contributor to Social Media Today, The Huffington Post, The Epoch Times, and other media outlets. His views are his own

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