Mamma went to Iceland (personal impressions of ITT 2018)

By Jeremy Langley, CMO / 13th June 2018

It’s our second year at the ITT conference and the second year it’s been held in Italy. It’s a curious beast of an event and I wanted to share my personal impressions of it.

ITT targets the crème de la crème of the travel industry, and in particular the tour operators themselves. Conversations are often high-level and you’re as likely to overhear two industry heavyweights discuss the recent sale of a colleague’s business “He took home £65 million from the sale, he’s a smart cookie” (a real example overheard) as you are to hear a discussion on direction of travel of the cruise industry (happily northwards, if you’re wondering). This is where the big beasts play.

Now to preface the following comments it’s important for me to declare that this year was a big success for us. We have started to build on the ferocious networking skills of our own Yaz Mistry to establish in the mind of the ITT members what we actually do (help make travel businesses like Secret Escapes and Attraction Tickets Direct more productive and profitable using communications technology) and now, in our second year, we are starting to reap what we have sown. Our breakfast event on ‘Driving transformational growth through marginal gains’ was well attended with a level of senior executive we’d have struggled to get to attend any other event. We have created lots of follow-up meetings and as our expertise become clearer to the ITT membership, that momentum will grow.

So far, so good.

That said, as conferences go it’s a strange beast. The speakers were of a knock-out calibre, and not one of the sessions was a dud. Whether that was Lord Adonis’s take on Brexit (it may not happen), the ‘women in travel’ track, and in particular Dawn Butler’s straight-talking  (“when there are as many s**t female managers as there are s**t male managers we’ll have achieved equality”), or Sir Michael Fallon’s observations on Tourism and Security, every presentation was entertaining and engaging. Incidentally, was it just me that felt somewhat uncomfortable around the combination of these latter two speakers on the same conference bill? It felt like a point may have been missed.

But, with a few honourable exceptions, a lot of the major presentations felt untethered to the hardcore business of running and operating a travel company. I know the event is as much about what happens off the programme as it about what’s on it, but I wondered whether enough was done to hit that traditional event target of “three golden ideas” – the three ideas I take back to my organisation to improve strategic or operational effectiveness.

I came away though feeling that the conference programme was something of a series of amuse bouches – entertaining but not filling. All that said, I’m not the target audience, and given the calibre of the speakers and their undoubted expertise in their fields it feels a little churlish to complain too much.

The amuse bouche analogy brings me to the least entertaining aspect of the conference: the food. For me Italy is the home of the greatest cookery in the world, but it was apparent that the cooks were on holiday last week and the rest of the kitchen staff, in a blind panic, and knowing the great and the good of the UK’s travel industry were landing en masse, had an emergency trip to the Italian equivalent of Iceland to buy food (I may be being unkind to Iceland), but not, alas, enough booze. My bouche was not at all amused, although the “Spaghetti Hoops” provided plenty of amusing material for Jason Manford. I don’t blame the ITT, their organisation is impeccable and they stayed admirably ahead of the gripes, but on my return home I was less keen to describe the cuisine than I was the company.

And that, above all, is the standout ingredient of every ITT event: the company. ITT members are always welcoming and hospitable and the organisation itself could not be more helpful. It’s unusual to find an industry body so committed to making sure the ecosystem thrives. We are fans and we’ll be back next year, but this time with a packed lunch and the hope of a filling agenda.


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