The first Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) since 2004, which began at the weekend to run to June 19, has revived hopes that the industry can secure future business using direct connections. "ATE is the one chance a year that Australian tourism businesses have the chance to meet face-to-face with the people responsible for selling Australian holidays in our key international source markets on Australian soil," said Tourism Australia managing director Geoff Buckley. Six hundred international buyers from 40 countries are expected to attend. The sector hopes to maintain its $25 billion inbound business and the exchange is an important element of securing relationships. Buckley admitted that the global economy had seen tourist numbers decline, but visitors now stay a little longer and there are still signs of interest, he notes. "This kind of interest demonstrates the confidence that the travel trade has in selling Australia internationally even in tough times. And events such as ATE, along our international marketing programs, are important for ensuring that Australia is top of mind with both the travel trade and consumers around the world," said Buckley. Minister for Tourism Martin Ferguson attended the event and urged businesses not to give up. He also emphasised the government's support. "From the Government's perspective we are, through Tourism Australia, continuing to spend $90 million every year selling Australia to the world," he said. "The Government is maintaining our presence in key international markets so that Australia is front-of-mind for travellers once growth inevitably returns."