LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Nearly 3,500 tour operators, bus company representatives and other tourism industry professionals gathered in Louisville for the American Bus Association (ABA) Marketplace January 25-29.
ABA’s Marketplace is the largest annual convention in the group tourism industry, and the association’s president and CEO, Peter Pantuso, said this year’s event ranked among the most successful in the organization’s history.
“It was probably one of the best shows we’ve had in terms of the business environment,” he said. “Everyone I talked to was pleased with how it went on both sides. Buyers and sellers were incredibly well received with responses from the other side and how those relationships went.”
This year’s conference marked a return to Louisville, where ABA’s 2016 Marketplace was held. In the interim, Louisville’s Kentucky International Convention Center was closed for two years while it was undergoing an extensive renovation. That project spurred other major tourism and hospitality investments in the downtown area as well, including the construction of a 612-room Omni hotel and updates to several other hotel properties. The convention center reopened late last summer, and ABA’s delegates enjoyed the opportunity to experience the city’s growth and change.
“Everybody loves Louisville,” Pantuso said. “It’s such a warm and welcoming city, and there’s so much to do, even more than when we were there a few years ago. The new convention center is bright and airy, and it gave it a totally different feel.
“We went to Louisville three years ago, and it was fantastic. People didn’t know what it was going to be like, but when they showed up, they loved it. That was with an old convention center and some hotels that needed some updating. Since them, the Omni came in, a lot of hotels updated their product, and the convention center is new. The whole town understands tourism in ways that not many other cities do.”
In addition to business appointments and educational sessions that took place at the convention center, the ABA delegates experienced visitor highlights on sightseeing tours around town and at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum, which hosted an all-attendee evening event.
During the conference’s opening lunch, Pantuso announced the addition of the Bus World Academy, a separately ticketed educational event that will be held in conjunction with Marketplace beginning next year in Omaha, Nebraska.
“That’s going to be really tailored toward bus owners and their staff,” Pantuso said. “Bus World is an organization in Belgium that runs a big bus show every other year, and they run smaller shows in six or seven countries around the world. We’re bringing the educational component of their show here. It’s going to be a high-level view of how passenger and bus transportation is going. The program will bring speakers, educators, university faculty and government officials from all over the world.”
ABA’s 2020 Marketplace will be held January 10-14 in Omaha.