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Travel symposium to generate millions

New focus on environment, global warming

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By Andrew Mitchell

During the hustle and bustle of the 2007 Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler will be hosting more than fans of music, arts and sports. From April 15 to 21, Whistler will also be hosting the 32 nd Annual Mountain Travel Symposium, with more than 1,200 mountain travel professionals attending from around the world.

There are two parts to the symposium — the Trade and Group Exchanges, and the Symposium Forum.

The Trade Exchange is the mountain travel industry’s largest vacation planning trade show, providing travel agents and brokers with an opportunity to meet with representatives from resorts around the world, and to buy and sell travel packages. The Group Exchange is similar with an emphasis on group travel and industry organizations.

According to Joan Christensen, spokeswoman for the Mountain Travel Symposium, millions of dollars worth of deals are made at the exchanges — the exact figures are proprietary she said, but the same buyers and sellers attend the symposium each year.

“I liken (the exchanges) to power dating,” said Christensen. “We have tour operators form 12 or 13 countries that are there to buy travel packages in huge bulk, we have ski areas from all over the world, and they sit down for 15 to 20 minute appointments and negotiate. It generates millions in business and has a huge impact for resorts that participate.

“Ralf Garrison started this whole thing as a kegger more than 30 years ago, and it has grown into the biggest mountain travel trade show of its kind in the world.”

The forum side of the Symposium features speakers on a wide range of topics related to mountain tourism. This year there are four keynote speakers — Greg Stielstra, author of Pyromarketing: The Four Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life; Guy Kawaski of Apple Computers, and the author of The Art of the Start: Rules for Revolutionaries; and Michelle Peluso, the president and CEO of online travel website Travelocity. The fourth session is a choice of five different learning tracks.

For the first time ever one of those learning tracks will be environmental, focusing specifically on global warming. Called Sustainability and Diversification, the environmental discussions will be led by Pat O’Donnell, the former president and CEO of Aspen Ski Company and former president of Whistler Mountain Ski Corp. He will discuss the Aspen experience, as well as the resort’s controversial ad campaign to spread public awareness.

Other tracks include Leadership Development, Mountain Travel Marketing, Mountain Travel Sales, and Technology in Travel Marketing. A more detailed explanation of what’s available is online at www.mtntrvl.com .

As the host resort, Christensen says Whistler is in a unique position to reach out to the travel community, and sell packages to clients around the world.

“Everyone knows of Whistler, but until you’ve been to a place you really can’t imagine it,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for the resort, especially with the World Ski and Snowboard Festival taking place.”

Festival founder, symposium owner and forum director Ralf Garrison said this will be one of most dynamic symposiums in years.

“We have an exceptional lineup of speakers to fire up some inspired thinking and actions by participants, two international trade exchanges with tour operators and mountain representatives from more than a dozen countries, incredible skiing and snowboarding at one of North America’s top resorts, and we’ll cap it off with all the competitions, fun, music and celebrations that are trademarks of the Telus festival.”

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