A couple of weeks ago I found myself in London to attend the World Travel Market, an annual event that brings the world’s travel industry together at one incredible venue. As my blog and writing business grow, I am constantly looking for new ways to increase my contacts and improve on my networking skills. A year ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead spending four days introducing (selling) myself to hundreds of strangers, but I am learning that the more I put myself out there- the closer I get to whatever it is I am shooting for.
My first WTM (World Travel Market) experience began the weekend before with the Traverse Mingle Pre-WTM event at the super stylish Cumberland Hotel. Travel bloggers and industry folk the world over gathered for a fancy night of drinks, canapés, and networking ahead of WTM the following week. It was wonderful to see familiar faces, as well as meet a lot of new friends. The Cumberland Hotel was incredible, with uber-modern sculptures and design throughout, and a champagne bar, restaurant and nightclub thrown in for good measure. It was a really great night, and the perfect pre-cursor to the crazy week that followed.
I had done my research before attending my first day of WTM. I knew through other bloggers that it could be an overwhelming experience. I had heard that many first-timers leave with nothing to show for it and that the possibility of returning home feeling like a complete failure was a very real possibility. I joined a Bloggers Advice Clinic through TBU, hoping that with a few pointers I would be better equipped to handle the thousands of exhibitors waiting for me. It definitely made a huge difference to my approach, and made me much more comfortable with the whole experience.
Nothing could have prepared me for that first day. I knew there would be thousands and thousands of people. I knew it would be chaos. But knowing and experiencing are two very different things. To make matters worse, I arrived at the ExCel Exhibition Centre only to find that I had forgotten my business cards back at my hostel. Have you ever tried to sell yourself with nothing of substance to hand over? It isn’t pretty. Needless to say, day one became WTM assimilation day. I used it to get a lay of the land- which consisted of miles of exhibitors from every corner of the world. I also wore heels, huge mistake. Luckily, you live you learn and I had two days left to make my mark.
My second and third day of WTM were a breath of fresh air. I lost the nerves, remembered my business cards, and bought some flats. I began enjoying the experience, which helped when I spoke with different tourist bureaus and companies. The World Travel Market is hard to describe if you haven’t been there yourself, but it makes you feel like you are actually travelling as you go through the different continents represented there. Each country that was represented at WTM had their own unique exhibit; from the simple hut draped in prayer flags of Nepal to the incredible palace with floating, rotating globe of the Middle-East. In addition to the phenomenal exhibits, many of the countries had representatives in the traditional dress of their respective area. It transformed the slightly painful act of business into something more exotic, which (at least in my case) made me excited to explore and discover new places around the globe I wasn’t as familiar with.
Many of the regions and businesses held drink receptions for the press (travel bloggers!) or public which, in general, highlighted drinks and food from their area. In Taiwan I attended a drink reception where I had the opportunity to hear about the beautiful country, the new initiatives of their tourism industry, and mingle with champagne and Asian snacks aplenty. In India there were samosas and wonderful Indian desserts I regret not getting the name of. They also served Stella Artois which I found very weird (why not an Indian lager?) but drank anyway. The Tourism Bureau of Texas celebrated with tequila cocktails, ( I found them too fancy for Texas, just my two cents…) chips and salsa, and Budweiser. I learnt that they are pushing luxury in Texas to drive in the tourists next year, which was kind of disheartening for some reason. In Peru I learned how to make a Pisco Sour – possibly the best drink I have had in a long while.
In France I was treated to more champagne and mouth-watering focaccia topped with caramelized onions in balsamic vinegar and goat cheese that was to die for. The city of London also held a press reception to celebrate the record number of tourists they had this year, a great accomplishment for a post-Olympic city and one that could only be celebrated with champagne and delectable red velvet cupcakes. Most of these events began in the late afternoon as a way to unwind after a long day of networking, but in my case ended up being some of the best networking opportunities I had at WTM. My last evening at the World Travel Market I attended the Caribbean Street Party, where all of the Caribbean exhibitors came together with an endless supply of rum punch, gorgeous dancing girls, singing, steel drum bands, and loads of fun Caribbean style. It was like I was at Notting Hill Carnival all over again, except everyone was dressed in their best business casual.
While I obviously had a lot of fun at the World Travel Market, I also learned so much more about the travel industry- and my place in it as a travel blogger and writer. I attended a lot of sessions, took a lot of notes, and spoke to a lot of incredibly talented people. I made contacts as well, and whether or not those turn into future collaborations I really don’t mind. I left feeling like I accomplished much more than I had anticipated I would. It is somewhat difficult to measure success. For some it may have been how many contracts they got signed. For others it may have been the amount of press trips they secured. For me, it was putting myself out there, talking earnestly to people, having meaningful conversations, and going home on the Underground each night knowing I gave it everything I had.
Next year I may approach WTM differently, but this year I would definitely call it a success. Have you been to the World Travel Market? I would love to hear how it went for you!