Have you ever wished that you could be teleported from one exotic location to another? That’s almost how it felt at the World Travel Market, when I visited earlier this month. Like a shopping mall for travel lovers, its stands allow visitors to hop from one country to the next. But what did I find there?
The world’s leading travel industry market, this year marked World Travel Market’s 35th anniversary. Over 52,000 travel professionals arrived at London’s Excel conference centre over four days, to find out the industry’s latest trends, developments and destinations.
I began by heading straight for one of my favourite European countries – Italy. I was disappointed, as most of the stands – each representing a different region – were little more than a few brochures and empty chairs, manned by bored-looking staff. Where was the creativity to represent this fascinating country full of history, culture and food? At least on the Puglia stand they were cooking in a pop-up kitchen. Situated on the heel of this boot-shaped country, this region is the beneficiary of the Italy tourist board’s latest UK advertising push, with the hashtag #WeAreInPuglia. It’s said to be a beautiful part of the country and not one that usually makes it onto visitors’ itineraries. Needless to say, it’s on my wish list to visit soon.
I met up with Lee, a fellow travel blogger and Italy fanatic, who shared that the previous days at the market had been congested with crowds, so today was far more pleasant to browse. Perhaps the glazed eyes of the reps was merely due to being hungover from a week of post-market drinking and socialising with their travel colleagues.
I made my way over to Asia and, boy, what a difference. I was immediately greeted by a cacophony of noise which, as it turned out was Gangnam Style. The home of this unlikely pop hit is, of course, Korea – and the song accompanied a lively display of cocktail-making at their stand. With staff in traditional dress, they showcased other activities throughout the day, from print-making to calligraphy, which had a long queue of people waiting for a hand-drawn souvenir.
Drawing an equally long queue were the Thai massages on offer at the Thailand stand: the perfect opportunity to unwind and relax during a hard day touring the world.
A boisterous drum and dance display drew me to the Taiwan stand, where their performers were showing off acrobatic stunts and breakdancing-style moves. Another place not often on people’s radar to visit, their representatives were smiling and welcoming. As their slogan says, maybe it is indeed time for Taiwan.
Like Italy’s Puglia, the tourist boards for Taiwan and its Asian neighbour Malaysia, had booked advertising on London buses over the course of this big travel event: a good strategy for raising awareness with the throng of travel agent executives arriving in town this week.
Now it was time to return to Indonesia, home to another of my favourite places – Bali. The stand here was hosted by friendly staff and featured a schedule of colourful dance performances and craftsmen, moulding clay into statues and painting masks.
I took an hour’s tour around Africa and the Middle East (how often can you say that)?
Then, I decided to head back closer to home territory: Europe. Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, and as the date was very close to Remembrance Day, one of the major destination sponsors of the event was Flanders in Belgium.
As well as wartime history, Belgium’s stands revolved around its highly prized craft beers and its famous statue of a naked boy peeing.
Journeying around Europe for the afternoon, I enjoyed the wordplay of Slovenia’s clever logo.
Meanwhile the UK’s stand focused on what puts the ‘great’ in Great Britain.
Finally on the European side of this vast market, I heard some loud pumping music, so I headed happily towards it. There were huge crowds, of mostly men, and I fought my way through to see what all the fuss was about.
Romania was putting on a fashion show. As the leggy, pouty models strutted along, it seemed this fashion show was missing one important thing: clothes. Well, that’s one way to promote your country.
Like any market looking to future-proof its businesses, it’s important to understand how tomorrow’s generations will live and – in this case – travel. To explore this, a whole section of the World Travel Market was dedicated to the latest technology innovators, from single app start-ups to big players like TripAdvisor.
While the travel industry isn’t quite yet able to offer teleportation holidays, it seems the years to come will see some exciting developments. Step into a travel agent shop in 2020 and you could well be donning a pair of travel goggles to virtually visit the destination you’re considering for your next trip. The heat, the crashing waves, the warm sand and the fruity cocktail in your hand could all be experienced from the comfort of your local high street store.
In the meantime, the question remains for me – where in the world shall I go next?
What would be your dream travel technology? Where would you be teleported to right now, if you could?