California desert destination Greater Palm Springs was the hottest ticket in golf as the 7th annual North America Golf Tourism Convention (NAC) got under way this week.
Organised by global golf tourism industry organisation IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators), the event has drawn more than 300 delegates including 103 tour operators from 23 countries and some 180 representatives from golf resorts, golf courses, hotels, receptive operators and tourist boards from 17 states in the USA as well as from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America.
More than 2,200 15-minute appointments were pre-scheduled between tour operators and suppliers during event at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, with an equal number of ad-hoc meetings and discussions expected throughout the two days of business sessions.
IAGTO Chief Executive Peter Walton said: “This is why this event has become the focal point for the North American travel industry because so much work gets done in such a short space of time. The operators acquire golf travel product knowledge and craft the deals that enable them promote and sell golf holidays, while the suppliers pitch for new business and accumulate valuable leads.”
Scott White, President and CEO of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, was delighted that the destination, which comprises nine cities with 112 18-hole championship golf courses, was hosting NAC this year.
He said: “IAGTO is a highly respected organisation and I think this event has a great history in terms of not only attracting the right types of professionals in the industry but also does a great job in advocating the importance of suppliers and buyers working together and becoming more astute at what they are doing. So for us to bring a convention of this calibre to this destination was very important.
“Palm Springs has gone through a bit of a renaissance over the past five or six years and we wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to share all of the improvements that have happened in the destination not only with the IAGTO member buyers but also with the industry suppliers for that matter. I think it’s important to show what’s happening here.
“Golf still remains one of the top attractions for our destination. We are probably one of the few destinations that have had literally no fall-off in terms of golf courses closing. If anything we are seeing that our golf business is up over previous years.
“Accessibility of the destination is also very important, so our proximity to San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Ontario airport and having our own airport is really making it easy for people from all over the world to get here.”
White said that as a result of hosting NAC, Greater Palm Springs hoped that it could grow the existing business it had with golf tour operators as well as attracting new tour operators to consider adding the destination to their portfolio.
He added: “By being here and seeing this event first hand it has made me more aware of how important it is to create a bigger model with Visit California. So I think we are going to try and work with everybody from Visit California on developing greater itineraries that will take people through Santa Barbara, San Diego and Palm Springs and building them all together.
“I think we have all done a great job in our respective destinations of creating itineraries and building programmes, but I think we now need to connect them all together and show the tour operator and customer how easy it is to get round Southern California and how many different options are available.”
Illustrating the value of staging the event for the host destination, Walton revealed that golf tour operator sales to coastal South Carolina had surged by almost 300% in the past 12 months as a direct result of Charleston hosting last year’s NAC.
Walton added: “IAGTO tour operators voted Greater Palm Springs as golf destination of the year for 2012 in recognition of the incredible range of golf product available in the valley within a relatively short distance of the resorts. And it has already been an eye-opener for those operators attending who were previously unaware of the unique golf experience that Greater Palm Springs presents.”
This year’s NAC also includes a golf tournament taking place on two courses: the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West and Desert Willow Golf Resort, with some 50 tour operators extending their visit to experience a further five courses between them.
Many of the operators travelling large distances to come to NAC have taken the opportunity to visit other destinations before and after the event, including Oregon, Las Vegas, San Diego, Carslbad, the Monterey Peninsula and Newport Beach.
At the Opening Address on 15 June, IAGTO announced the launch of a National Golf Tourism Benchmarking project for the USA in collaboration with Brand USA in a bid to lay the foundations for further golf tourism promotion to the country.
Hosted by the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, the convention, took place from 14-17 June, supported by Brand USA and Visit California in addition to international sponsors Gleneagles, Kingsbarns Golf Links, Trump Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links from Scotland, ProColombia, Troon Golf Vacations, Golf Ireland, Fairways Golf, Oitavos Dunes and the Andalucia Tourist Board.