WTM, or World Travel Market, invited the world to London’s Excel Centre – and the world took up the invite en masse. It was my first experience of the biggest Travel Industry event in the calendar, and suffice to say that I am writing this with matchsticks propping my eyes open. But the four days I spent there were nothing short of unforgattable.
What amazed and entranced me above all else was the sheer scale of the event and the time and creativity that the exhibitors had put into their stands. The ‘stands’ were a far cry from the trestle tables and pinboards which have been the feature of most exhibitions I’ve attended thus far; I’m sure most of them were bigger than my house. Most featured VIP bars, networking areas and individual booths for various tour companies or regional tourist boards related to the country in question. People in sharp suits would sit at the tables and talk seriously to one another, agreeing huge business deals.
Some countries had really let their imaginations run wild, with people in costume carving instruments, giving massages or dancing. Costa Rica was a veritable jungle, with people in business suits tapping away on their ipads surrounded by verdant trees. Rwanda featured straw-rooved huts, where exhibitors and agents sat and talked, while in Morocco, deals were concluded on low stools over a cup of mint tea.
Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by people from all over the world, speaking a myriad of languages. When I needed to take a breather, I’d head up to the press centre and stand on the balcony, looking down at the mass of humanity below. It really was like the world in miniature.
I even found myself saying things like: ‘So I’m just off to Holland, then I’ll meet you in Florida’. I walked from Abu Dhabi to Peru and had lunch in Bulgaria. It was the most surreal, brilliant thing. The way the stands reflected their countries was incredible – if there wasn’t a competition for ‘best stand’ somewhere along the line, I want to know why.
After wandering around the hall, the real work began. The press conference on the first day outlined the huge influence social media now has on the entire travel industry, so this really was the year of the Blogger. For many people, it was an introduction to the world of blogging and social media, so it was exciting to be on the frontline of what feels like the start of a new era for the entire blogging community.
It’s given me some great Starry-Eyed ideas – I’m not revealing any of them yet, but watch this space for some shiny new things!