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A new approach reflects Japanese independence

One tends to think of the Japanese travelling in groups with cameras at the ready, but we are now starting to witness the growth of independent Japanese travel. This made it perfect timing for our senior operations director, Norbert Petersen, and me to visit Osaka and Tokyo. The purpose was to launch our dedicated, toll-free reservation number in Japan.

To coincide with the launch, we put together a value-added package, “Explore London”, to encourage the individual traveller to visit the capital.

The package includes accommodation, breakfast, a taxi transfer from London Heathrow, a full-day tour of London and lunch at one of our traditional properties.

From Japan it was on to Lisbon, where the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) was holding its annual convention. It is an important event in the travel industry’s calendar, with 3,000 travel agents and about the same number of suppliers.

ASTA also attracts excellent keynote speakers: last year in St Louisit was Lady Thatcher and this year George Bush addressed the packed audience. It is staggering that the convention has never been to the UK since it started more than 60 years ago, so I am delighted that ASTA will be coming to Glasgow in September 1997.

When I finally returned to London it was for one of the travel industry’s busiest weeks – the World Travel Market at Earls Court. Thistle and Mount Charlotte Hotels was exhibiting with an enlarged stand displaying the new corporate identities.

The amount of business conducted at the show is difficult to measure, but I do believe that a presence at the show is an important PR exercise. It provided us with an opportunity to launch three products: our new Thistle Country House Hotels brochure; the only comprehensive golf touring programme in Scotland; and “$95 in ’95” – a value-added package aimed at the North American market.

The show also demonstrated the growing importance of electronic marketing and global distribution systems (GDS). I was fascinated to read a recent poll which indicated that last year there were 32,446 full-service travel agency locations in the USA, providing $93.5b (£58.4b) in revenue and that 96% of agencies are able to book hotels on one of the airline computer systems.

When one takes into consideration the number of cruise-only agencies, this means that almost all agents selling hotels have access to GDS, which illustrates their increasing daily importance to all of us.

The first day of the show had a personal significance too: it marked day 365 of my 1,000-day sales and marketing plan for Thistle and Mount Charlotte Hotels.

Most of my objectives for the year have been achieved: a new corporate identity for the group, following extensive market research; the opening of eight overseas sales offices; improved and more comprehensive sales literature; and the establishment of a larger and more accountable sales and marketing team.

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