Jing Daily spent time with Alison Gilmore, portfolio director of International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM), to learn more about the upcoming ILTM Asia event, luxury travel trends, and what Chinese luxury travel buyers are really looking for. This year’s ILTM Asia is held in Shanghai June 5-8.
Jing Daily: To start off, can you tell me a little bit about ILTM Asia and your role in the organization?
Alison Gilmore: Yes, ILTM Asia is 11 years old. I have been with the company for five years, and I’m the portfolio director of all the ILTMs across the world. I have actually been going to ILTM Asia since the beginning because I used to live in Singapore where I worked for American Express. So I originally attended as a buyer, and have now seen the event from both sides.
Jing Daily: Now that ILTM Asia has been around for 11 years, very much a period of rapid development both in terms of luxury and travel—and of course—luxury travel. Have you noticed many differences between your first and most recent time at ILTM Asia?
Alison Gilmore: Yes, I think the travelers themselves have gotten way smarter and far more sophisticated than they were when the show started. I think they are more adventurous, but also more demanding. Going from the early days to now, they’re also less concerned with loyalty and brands, and are now more focused on independence and experience, for me the biggest shift is that travelers have become far more knowledgeable with higher expectations.
Jing Daily: What are the main reasons for exhibiting at ILTM Asia in 2017? Are the reasons different from, say, in 2007?
Alison Gilmore: It is about trading, it is about meeting people, it is about business. That hasn’t changed for millions of years all over the world, but it’s about bringing those things together. We go out of our way to get the best buyers to meet the exhibitors that come to our show, and I think our credibility and our reputation [also play a role]. We ask our exhibitors about the amount of business they get from a lot of our buyers, and it’s quite staggering, some of the bookings they get. Luxury is a face-to-face business and you cannot question the face-to-face interactions that go on at ILTM Asia or any ILTM event.
Jing Daily: I suppose a lot of brands have perhaps attended ILTM in Cannes or gone to other similar events around the world, but with ILTM Asia based in Asia, things might be a little different. Do you think these brands or organizations should view Asia as a new and exciting market that they should apply conventional wisdom to, or do they need a different approach in comparison to what they do in more mature markets such as the United States and Europe?
Alison Gilmore: The established markets, Europe and the U.S., have been doing business their way for a long time and they do certainly do it slightly differently. But as I said earlier, this is about people and trading, and that’s what has always gone on. For Asia, we have a lot of big brands that have been with us since the beginning, that are with us in Cannes and with us in Asia. I think they are more culturally aware than they ever were before, and I believe that it’s key to know that Asia is not one country, but is made up of many different countries and cultures. So having some of that culture awareness, I think, is really key. Some of them are still learning, and a lot of them have come to us to ask for help, we try to direct them on how they should operate when they come to ILTM Asia.
Jing Daily: You mentioned larger brands, but is there anything you think that the smaller luxury travel brands can do to stand out in a market crowded by large, well-known brands?
Alison Gilmore: Yes, we have a great media program, and we have a lot of these smaller brands. So if you take all the big brands, they have own PR company, they have their own machines working in the background. However, a lot of these small independent properties, cannot afford a PR agency, so we bring a lot of media and we host media roundtables where these smaller properties get to sit in front of editors and journalists that they may otherwise not be able to. One or two articles in some great publications can sell you for the next couple of years. An example was a client from New Zealand who came once, met a couple of media, achieved some fantastic coverage and they got so much business they said “we do not need to come back next year, we are full all the time,” so they left for two years and then came back again. It’s great to hear that kind of feedback, that we can create these important relationships that can really help these smaller companies.
Jing Daily: With Chinese buyers, are they looking for something that is a little bit different than other Asian buyers at ILTM Asia, and is there anything that Chinese buyers, in particular, are looking for?
Alison Gilmore: I don’t think you can separate them. The things all buyers are looking for is something they can take back for their clients and go “I think you like this, I think this is for you.” The high level of the buyers we bring to ILTM Asia, and to any ILTM event, means they know what they are doing and primarily what they are looking for. They want to go back with a good armory of things they can say to their clients. It’s our job to bring as much variety as we can so when they do liaise with their clients they are armed with whole selections of opportunities and knowledge that ensure they are going that extra mile. At the end of the day, that’s what ILTM is all about: it’s about driving business for our hosted agents, and about making them look good in front of their clients. The one thing, still, at the moment, that is different between other Asians and Chinese, is language. There are a lot of Chinese speakers that come to the show, but we still bring in translators because we still need the help with the Chinese translation. That for me is the only key difference.
Jing Daily: Since ILTM Asia began 11 years ago, the Chinese market exploded from almost nothing to become the biggest source of tourists in the world. How has this growth influenced ILTM Asia, and what does it mean for exhibitors? Has it resulted in them doing things differently from before?
Alison Gilmore: I think from when it started, there were big expectations of a massive wave of luxury tourists, but I don’t think it was as big as everyone expected. There have always been some really sophisticated travelers from China, but it is not in a massive wave such as in leisure travel. It’s better for all that the growth is gradual and sustainable.
Jing Daily: Since Chinese tourism has grown so much in recent years, and since the Chinese luxury market has grown so much in recent years, we do have a lot of small and big events popping up in China catering organizations who want to tap into either tourism or luxury. What makes ILTM Asia stand out among all these other new events that keep popping up.
Alison Gilmore: At the portfolio level, ILTM has been established for 16 years, so we are well-integrated, we have the credibility of a large brand behind us, and it is clear we’re not coming into the market to see if we like it and then leaving. We have been there since the beginning, and are firmly established. Also, we work very hard on what we do in terms of our buyers, and I don’t think any event in the world can touch us in the quality of the buyers that we bring. My team’s job is just to go and find buyers, and we take two references for every single buyer that comes to our shows, and if they don’t match up, they don’t come again. We are incredibly strict about what we deliver, and I think it’s this consistency of delivery since the beginning that gives us our edge. I think for ILTM, and ILTM Asia, we have proved that we can deliver and will continue to deliver.
ILTM thanks you for your support and looks forward to seeing you at ILTM Asia 2017 (5 – 8 June). For more information and to register to exhibit or as a buyer, please see www.iltm.com/asia or WeChat: ILTMAsia
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