Tired ATF faces challenges

CHIANG MAI, 29 January 2018: As the final round of speeches concluded and the dancers twirled off the stage, it left ATF participants to ponder was it all worth the effort?

Now in its 37th year, the 10-member nations are experts at hosting the annual ATF spectacle of tourism goodies almost with their eyes closed. It’s a routine that we have become comfortable with and that could be the event’s ultimate undoing.

There appears to be no driving reason to consider change. A tweak here and there was accomplished that shortened the TRAVEX duration to just two days and 42 potential appointment slots, while the irrelevant ASEANTA half-day conference was scotched from the bulky programme.

Yes, the 38th ASEAN Tourism Forum will be hosted by Vietnam in mid-January 2019, followed by Brunei in 2020 and they will likely prove yet again there is strong appetite for reunions, elaborate shows and extravagant assurances of cooperation.

But amidst the celebrations at ATF 2018 an undercurrent was observed, a stirring of largely unspoken doubts about the future of this august gathering. It’s future beyond 40 could now be in doubt?

Is the ASEAN Tourism Forum, with all of its expensive trappings, running out of steam?  Possibly and even its strongest supporter are voicing concern.  The tiny hints of foreboding were seen in the frequent mention of the digital era and the role it now plays for ATF’s stakeholders.  National tourist office officials said budgets would concentrate more on digital channels. By default it could leave the future of the ATF trade show in doubt. Face-to-face networking will survive, but not necessarily in the manner that was introduced 37 years ago.

Communications and sales in the B2B space are shifting dramatically to digital platforms, faster than we might wish to acknowledge.

ATF 2018 in Chiang Mai attracted just 240 buyers and chats at the booths suggested the count of  ‘real’ buyers could have been lower. At best, sellers can meet just 42 buyers in the course of the two-day show and when compared with other major shows, buyer quality was criticised by sellers many of them veteran plays at ATF.

When asked if the ATF was tired and ready for a remake one high-ranking tourism official nodded in agreement. It was a clear yes and a call for the private sector’s ASEANTA association, that leads from the rear in most matters, to step forward and say exactly what it intends to do with the show that it is supposed to manage. ASEANTA has consistently shirked its responsibility, happy to allow governments to manage TRAVEX.

There was talk of the profusion of trade shows at national level that are now dominating the regional calendar. A revolving door mechanism is now in place that swirls the same buyers from one national show to the next. To add to the dilemma there is a shrinking pool of meaningful trade buyers who offer value to regional shows and the advance of digital online alternatives in the business of contracting deny traditional trade show a reason to survive.

As virtual reality technology advances the challenge for the traditional trade show will intensify. There will be casualties, some shows will disappear.

When asked to gaze into the ATF crystal ball the future is muddled by unanswered questions. But one matter is beyond doubt. If ATF is to have a life beyond 40, its architects will need to adopt a different business model than is evident today.


  1. Agreed Andrew.
    Too many Buyers are given Appointments with Sellers they have no real wish to see since the Buyers seem to have to be “shared around” to support the format. And hopefully, get the Seller to turn up again next year, even though the true value of participation for the Seller may have been minimal.
    Whilst it’s good to have the opportunity to meet Buyers – and especially the occasional “new prospect” with potential – much of the effective work in Sales and Marketing is accomplished by hard work and research away from the Trade Show floor.
    In the context of the tools and resources available today the traditional Trade Show is increasingly less relevant and can be time consuming and expensive.

  2. The hotel owners I talk with would support the feeling that it’s not working as it should. The question begs whether it’s a format that is passé. I would say most definitely ‘YES’.

    Most owners believe quality face to face meetings with decision making buyers is their best use of the valuable resources namely time and money. If you are a Thai hotel and the buyer / decision maker can be found in Bkk then this is their preferred route. Good buyers are frankly just too busy wasting precious time on appointments at trade shows that they would never have made themselves. So a lot of time wasting and their need for a free pass to visit a destination/country went out with the ark.

    Agree with Don that times are achanging. David Holden’s comments also resonate. ANDREW J WOOD

  3. Do the ATF Organisers give all Registered Sellers the Email addresses of all the Registered Buyers so they can follow up with all the Buyers they did not have the opportunity to meet? NOT the Websites – the Email addresses of the Buyers.
    If not I suggest you save yourselves a lot of time and money by contacting the TAT Offices in your key Markets and asking for their Email list of Suppliers to Thailand.
    Or attend the Annual TAT Marketing Action Plan Meeting held in Bangkok, where you get to meet Representatives from all the Overseas TAT offices.
    TAT, and the information it has on its Markets, is often greatly underrated.
    Do that and do you really need to attend an event like this at such significant time and financial cost?
    Most of those Buyers come out to Thailand at least once a year too.
    I would imagine that works for most other Tourism Boards as well.
    Be creative and put in a bit of work and you can bypass the time and cost of Events like this.

  4. 42 buyers at best, Mr Ross should now know how fake tat numbers are

    • Perhaps it wasn’t clear. The TRAVEX has 42 appointment slots over two days so the seller can meet and hold discussions with a maximum of 42 buyers during the show out of a total 240 international buyers listed as attending.

      • … chats at the booths suggested the count of ‘real’ buyers could have been lower. At best, sellers can meet just 42 buyers in the course of the two-day show

  5. Tired Thai Tourism may be the exact reason for the failure of atf 2018.

    After all this tourism country could not make aft 2018 work as well as two years ago elsewhere.

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