Pow Wow: America’s Biggest Tourism Event

It may have a funny name, but if you’re in the travel business in the United States, the Discover America Pow Wow constitutes the most important five days of the year.

The Pow Wow is a one-stop tourism shopping mall bringing U.S. travel producers together with their international buyers, who use the meeting to book all this country has to offer, from Disney to dude ranches.

It is the largest event of its kind in the United States. Foreign tourists brought more than $74 billion to the United States last year, and almost every inbound tour in the Unites States was bought at the Pow Wow.

Last week, travel buyers from more than 74 countries descended on Miami to spend $2 billion-plus on U.S. tour packages. Miami, along with the Travel Industry Association of America, spared no expense in wining, dining and romancing the delegates with lavish entertainment events and spectacles that made the star-studded opening of “Planet Hollywood” here look like a high school production.

U.S. Travel and Tourism Association Director Greg Farmer used the Pow Wow to release the latest government figures on tourism. And the good news is that California tourism is up, and prospects look very good for the coming year.

San Jose’s Mission
For members of the San Jose and California convention bureaus, Pow Wow is where they learn how their markets fare on the international travel market as well as re-establish personal contact with packagers who last year sent 5.7 million foreign visitors to the state.

“We’re trying to open new markets,” says Joanne Hirasaki, vice president of travel marketing for the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve been primarily focusing on Argentina, which has direct service to San Jose, and Mexico. But we’re also focusing on the European market, because American Airlines has direct service to the U.K., France and Italy.”

It’s also an opportunity to promote new products that are not well-known overseas. “There are almost 300 state parks in California, all of which are safe, rural destinations,” says Ted Hilliard, assistant director of California’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “This year we’re making a huge presence here to show our state parks as an alternative to the cities.”

Those in the California travel industry have been worried about how a year marred by natural disasters and highly publicized crimes against tourists would affect the state’s appeal to foreign visitors. One of the jobs of the California representatives at the Pow Wow has been to dispel rumors as well as to “educate buyers to the diversity of California tourist product,” says Fred Sater of the California Trade and Commerce Agency.

But the fears seem largely unfounded: Foreign visitors to the United States spent a record amount last year, widening the United States’ travel trade surplus to $20.8 billion. The Bay Area, relatively untouched by the difficulties in Southern California, has also seen some favorable press generated by the San Jose Sharks.

Tourism to the state was up last year by 1 percent.

As Japan Goes …
One major travel industry concern has been maintaining tourist influx from Japan, the No. 1 source of foreign tourism. According to Masako Easton, director of marketing for Nippon Travel, which booked almost 75,000 Japanese visitors to the United States last year, there’s nothing to worry about.

“Sales to California – to Los Angeles and San Francisco – are up, and I think that this will be a very great year,” says Easton, pointing out that “people forget bad things, and Japanese people realize that there is good and bad everywhere.”

More young Japanese visitors are coming to the country than ever, says Easton, and in large groups, usually with schools or other youth organizations.

But the news at Pow Wow ‘94 hasn’t been good just for California; tourism has become the United States’ largest service export.

“The dynamics of this industry are mind-boggling and probably surprising to those of you who don’t cover this industry on a regular basis,” said U.S. Travel and Tourism Association Director Farmer during an address to reporters.

“Travel and tourism is this nation’s second-largest employer. In 39 states, it’s (the) No. 1, 2 or 3 employer. Direct and indirect tourism expenditures generate 13.9 percent of the nation’s gross national product … 13.9 percent!”

Cruising Along
The darling of the U.S. travel industry, cruises, has shown the most consistent growth over the past several years, and cruise companies are aggressively marketing themselves to continue that growth. In keeping with that, the entire port of Miami was closed to the public last Sunday night for one of the most massive Pow Wow parties ever.

Two ships, Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas and Carnival’s Ecstasy, were retained for the bash.

As one sitting of delegates was wined and dined with sumptuous gourmet meals, the other half roamed the ships, looked under the beds and danced in one of the 20 on-board nightclubs. The evening was capped off with what has been billed as the largest fireworks demonstration ever held in the United States.

Pow Wow delegates are used to this kind of treatment. Trying to impress the very people who usually do the impressing is the responsibility of the host city, which takes three years to study previous events, set up committee after committee and coordinate a nightmare of logistics to make each celebration more spectacular than the last.

“Pow Wow is not a convention,” says Mayco Villafana, director of communications for the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, which worked with the Travel Industry Association to organize this year’s events.

“This is the largest international meeting of travel professionals from around the world here to do business, and that’s why it’s so popular: People do huge amounts of business here.”