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4 Nov, 2012

11 Reasons Why I Am Giving the 2012 WTM London a Miss

After 25 years of covering the World Travel Market London, I am giving this year’s show a miss. Here’s why:

1. Britain and Europe are no longer as important as sources of visitors, ideas and industry innovations. The rise of Asia and the emergence of new source markets such as Russia, Brazil, Latin America and Africa has diluted the importance of British and European tour operators and their entire tourism industries. Geopolitically and economically, too, these countries have violated their own principles and policies, creating far more global problems than they care to admit and/or recognise.

2. The growing size of WTM is becoming its own worst enemy. Verily, growth is a commercial imperative, but, like destinations, the Excel area has a carrying capacity. When exceeded, the capacity hits the point of diminishing returns. Too many events, press conferences, seminars, are scattered around too many different locations, making them impossible to reach and adequately cover. Often, I have turned up at a seminar room where I had to queue up and then wouldn’t let me in because it’s full.

3. The line-up of prominent speakers and panelists at the various events do not accurately reflect the “World” as in World Travel Market. British and European agendas and perspectives still dominate, along with the same old discussions about branding, marketing, technology and industry resilience. This year, the impact of the Olympics, the Arab spring and Hurricane Sandy will feature prominently, as will the results of the U.S. elections. I can get most of this information by monitoring the official statements on the various websites.

4. There appears to be same old colonial mentality dominating agendas. Key issues affecting this massive shift in the global world order, including underlying geopolitical power struggles, economic upheavals and their root causes, the behind-the-scenes bunfights taking place in global trade, financial, transportation, telecommunications and energy forums are never openly discussed. Only superficial, parochial, politically correct issues are aired. This state of denial does not contribute to a fundamental recognition of the real problems facing travel & tourism, and thus denies the industry at large a voice in crafting a solution.

5. To their credit, a lot of basic information is being made available on the WTM website. Numerous background reports are helpful in writing stories and providing analysis on some issues and trends. Some new things are being done. A Hyde-Park style soapbox idea has been created for 10-minute snapshot presentations. Good idea but the topics do not arouse much interest, being mostly self-promotional material.

6. Press conferences have become much too stage managed over the years and largely lost their former spontaneity and intellectual value. People who challenge industry thinking, take contrarian opinions, offer alternative perspectives are virtually non-existent. Such activists, unionists, environmentalists who disagree with conventional wisdoms are considered pariahs instead of valuable contributors to a vitally important check and balance mechanism that promotes transparency and accountability, all of which help build public trust and create a democratic, healthy industry at large.

7. Networking is no longer as important for me as it used to be. The many new faces may enjoy the thrill of being there but for those of us who have covered the show for years, the new faces mean little, especially as they have no sense of history and usually have no time for anyone except those who can show them the money. Old friends are also gradually fading away. Sure, the industry growth ensures that attendance numbers (the quantity) goes up, but the quality of relationships is no longer what it used to be.

8. Costs are going up. Hotel rates usually rise to double the normal levels during the WTM days. Air-fares are up. Unless backed by large conglomerates and their advertising largesse, rank-and-file travel journalists can no longer afford the luxury of attending such shows.

9. Unpredictable transport problems such as strikes and breakdowns are regular occurrences, adding to the daily ordeal of commuting to and from the Excel Centre.

10. The cold and unstable weather conditions do not help.

11. In the good days, I took my wife annually to London for the pleasure of seeing theatre performances and enjoying the vibrant entertainment scene. We saw some of the best shows, from Miss Saigon to Phantom of the Opera to We Will Rock You. The London restaurants remain world-class as do the fabulous London museums and art galleries. We will always have fond memories of those visits. But times change, and so do priorities. When shows such as the WTM mature with age and wisdom, perhaps I will again subject myself to the ordeal of applying for a British visa to get there.

It is for largely the same reasons that I also gave this year’s ITB Berlin a miss.