It’s coming up for that time of year again when the Jubilee Line during evening rush-hour is filled with discarded paper and brochures showcasing exotic lands: a far cry from the normal used copies of the Evening Standard.
Yes, the World Travel Market is upon us once more, held at London’s ExCel Centre, from Monday 4th through to Thursday 7th November 2013. Travel industry professionals once more make their annual pilgrimage to experience dismal November London weather at its ‘best’.
WTM is not for the faint-hearted.
Okay, I just wanted that to sound dramatic. It’s actually fine to be fainthearted if you want: just as long as you’re prepared. Now a WTM veteran, here’s my top five tips for coming through the event, with your mind, body, and dignity still intact at the other end.
1. Plan ahead. What are your motives for attending? Acquiring new knowledge? Meet industry professionals? Investigate new technology applications for your travel business? Source potential partners? Or simply try to grab as many freebies as you can? [that last one was a joke, just to clarify]
Either way, your objectives will determine your action. If knowledge is your thing, get au fait with the seminar programme (and ensure you’re there well before it starts – many are full to the brim and you might not get in). If it’s networking, then know which stands will be cracking open the beers at 4pm. Also know about the various off-site evening networking events such as those run by Travel Trade Gazette – such as the #ttgtweetup on Monday 4th and their party the following night.
You might also want to use the WTM contacts application for you to fill out your profile, state why you’re attending and who if anyone you’re looking to meet with, send and receive messages from interested parties etc. I have to say: in terms of sourcing journalists and writers, I’ve found it useless. But each to their own.
Planning ahead is also vital when it comes to eating. Want to eat at sensible, established times? Then forget any chance of finding a seat. Eat an hour before everyone else so you can bag yourself somewhere to park your ass. As an aside, the food prices inside the exhibition hall are not exactly supermarket prices, or even ‘High Street’ prices. Another reason for the big bag: bring your own sarnies, Mars Bars, you name it, for some sustenance without paying the higher prices. Alternatively if you’re at WTM on expenses, ignore this point. Spend your company’s money with glee! The hot food outlets are pretty good in their own right.
2. Take a big bag. This tip relates to several things. Whether or not you bring your big bag into the exhibition hall or leave it at the cloakroom is up to you, but bring it anyway. I’ve warned in the WTM LinkedIn group last year about the perils of grabbing brochures like there’s no tomorrow. Someone – namely YOU -will be carrying those suckers back home or to the hotel. Then departure day comes and you’re frantically trying to fit everything into your suitcase, and surprise surprise, it’s not all going to fit inside. Oops.
Because you’re reading this, you’re obviously of sound mind (one hopes) so going on a ‘brochure berserker’ is not your style. But it’s still a bit of a bind carrying brochures around all day, especially if you’ve got a notepad, appointment diary etc. So, plan some strategic brochure drops – get back to the cloakroom, and drop those brochures in your big bag. Depending on the member of staff you get, you might be able to retrieve your bag, slip the brochures in, then have it stored again without cost. But to be honest, who cares if it costs you another quid? It’s worth it.
3. Expect to be incommunicado. From personal experience, mobile phone signal coverage can be described as ‘tetchy’; the same for trying to get any internet on your smartphone. It may just be my own provider letting me down, but I’ve found year in year out that once I enter the hallowed lands of ExCel, the most important functions of having a smartphone – namely, being able to make calls, and access email/internet – disappear for the most part. Down on the exhibition floor, it’s a crapshoot to see if you’ll get any sort of signal. Then half an hour later sitting in one of the seminar rooms upstairs, your signal will suddenly return and “Praise the Lord!”: you can be at one with the internet again. Oh what sad lives we live, lol.
4. Watch those feet! If you’re attending for several days, choose the wrong footwear at your peril. Yes ladies, you’ll look lovely in your three inch heels on the first day. But if you’ve worn the same shoes the following day, I’ll make a bet that by the third, you’ll be wearing jeans and trainers – probably your comfiest pair of Asics running shoes. ExCel is BIG. Pounding the floors from one end of the hall to the other, running for meetings and seminars inconveniently scheduled at opposite ends, and general traipsing around are hell on the tootsies and the soles of your feet. If you’ve got some cash and are lording it up in a swanky 5 star hotel during your stay, book an evening appointment for a foot rub – you’ll be thankful for it.
Guys, this tip goes for you too. You might not be wearing heels (you also might, it’s a free country, but I’ve not seen this at WTM!) but strutting around all day will still leave your plates of meat tender come evening time. Don’t leave home without your comfiest, best cushioned socks. Trust me on this.
5. Avoid Thursday. This is a great shame, but if you’ve not got any specific seminars or appointments to attend, then save your tube fare and don’t bother heading out to the Docklands. Why? Because apparently a lot of the exhibitors feel the same. By noon on Thursday the number of empty booths and stands is noticeable. Exhibitors have packed up and headed home; many of them haven’t even taken their brochures and other collateral with them. They’re just lying in piles to be collected and disposed of.
Thursday is also Student day – if you like the sight of lots of impressionable ‘mature’ teenage girls studying Tourism Management etc. who should be trying to make connections (but instead spend most of their time queuing to get henna tattoos on their hand), then attend if you must. For those who genuinely are attending for the best of reasons (other than to get henna tattoos) it’s a shame that a lot of the exhibitors have packed their bags and buggered off. What signal does this send to the young and ambitious who want to have a career in the industry?
WAIT: BONUS TIP!
6. Have fun. Falling short of getting your hand henna tattooed, there’s still a lot to see and learn at the WTM. See Cuban cigars being made from hand before your very eyes. If you’re from the USA you can either walk away in disgust or drool enviously and resign yourself to the fact that you can’t smoke ‘em back home.
Whilst there probably won’t be a repeat of the South Korean’s synchronised multi-robotic performance of ‘Gangnam Style’ from last year which was pretty amusing, if you’ve got an eye for the birds (stop sniggering!) then head over to the Middle Eastern section. Someone will have an exhibit with a couple of raptors perched either on their own stand or somebody’s forearm. Beautiful creatures. In a similar animal vein, whilst strictly not part of the exhibition, you’ll invariably see security staff walking around with the most adorable Black Labradors doing their explosive / drugs sniffing stuff. Feel free to melt, but draw the line at offering money to their handler to take them home with you (the dog, not the handler).
And finally, if you’re at the various networking events, or even just on the exhibition floor, talk to people, dammit! The WTM is an excellent opportunity to meet people from all corners of the globe and everywhere in between. Ask questions: learn something new about their part of the world, and maybe a new perspective on things. Have pre-conceived opinions changed over a beer.
For me this includes winding up friendly Russian exhibitors, by inferring they’re all members of the SVR or GRU. For extra points do the same with the Chinese: ask them if their USB sticks are laced with spyware and other dodgy Trojans. Just kidding! Mostly…
So with those words of wisdom, enjoy WTM! I’ll see you on the other side….