It was also my first visit to any travel show, anywhere.
After exploring the entire show in the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center, I learned a surprising amount about the world, discovered some great ways to help countries in crisis and found that many tourism outlets are becoming increasingly open to a professional relationship with travel bloggers.
Ah, the irony: every year during the weekend of the L.A. Times Travel & Adventure Show, I’ve been traveling. Having the chance to finally attend this year was extremely exciting.
Co-produced by a country I’d love to explore more fully, I happily pored over info on SITA World Tours’ 8-day “Highlights of Taiwan” trip while sipping a boba tea and watching a splashy dance show with elaborately costumed versions of the Taiwanese folk god Santaitz (The Third Prince). that presents a national series of Travel & Adventure Shows, one of the main sponsors of this year’s show was Taiwan. As this is
Stationed around the five-acre show floor were about 400 other booths and interactive events, including discounted books, a zipline, a 25-foot rock-climbing wall, a huge scuba pool, a steer-roping corral and a global performance stage sponsored by the World Heritage Cultural Center. At the latter, I caught a little Bollywood dancing, some vibrant flamenco, and traditional Chamorro musicians and paloteo dancers from Guam.
One of the most surprising (and clever) features of the show was a huge bank of AAA travel agents, live and in-person. (AAA was yet another sponsor of the show.) For those visitors who had discovered a destination, tour or cruise at the show and had their vacation schedules handy, these agents could book that dream trip right on the spot. I eavesdropped here for a while and overheard bookings for a river cruise through Eastern Europe, a dude ranch in Montana, a summertime sojourn to South Korea and an eco-friendly tour of eastern Costa Rica; all were made for couples in their late 40s and early 50s.
Several Los Angeles Times photographers gave how-to presentations on their craft (composing travel snapshots with a sense of place, capturing memories of your children on vacation, etc.). Mark Boster gave a particularly inspired account of his dream assignment: shooting Yosemite National Park, his favorite place on Earth, in all four seasons. He was having a great time sharing his tips and stories at the show, and felt only slightly wistful about not being in Tuolomne Meadows to shoot the largest moon seen in the last 20 years.
It was a special joy to wander through the Africa section and visit with reps from &Beyond, the company with which we traveled to Botswana and Tanzania. A few nights earlier, I’d had the opportunity to meet James Currie, the company’s brand ambassador, at a gathering of the Association for Celebrity Personal Assistants, who are responsible for booking a dizzying caliber of adventures for their clients; Currie was there to give his exciting spiel about the company as a whole, while I gave a short and heartfelt presentation about my personal experiences in Africa. At the travel show, the &Beyond booth was pretty swarmed all day, as were booths for Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa and Uganda.
Three countries had a special presence at the show: Haiti, Egypt and Japan.
For Haiti, an enclosed area ran an updated version of the song We Are the World on a loop, reminding show attendees that every download of the tune benefits earthquake relief efforts in the country. For more information or to make a donation, please visit the We Are the World Foundation website.
The manned a booth, and I was one of hundreds of people who stopped by to express my excitement about seeing them so soon after massive civil unrest and the overthrowing of Hosni Mubarak. For now, you can all but have the Great Pyramids or a Nile cruise to yourselves, but of course, the tourism industry there hopes that this will soon change.
Japan, which just last week experienced one of the world’s most epic natural disasters, erected a red pagoda touting relief efforts from the Red Cross (text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10) and Unicef (text JAPAN to 864233). Tourism reps were also in attendance: whole swaths of the country were untouched by the earthquakes or tsunami, and tourist dollars are needed to help the northeast recover.
The big-ticket attractions were speakers like Samantha Brown (star of over a decade’s worth of shows on the Travel Channel), Rick Steves ( who has an eponymous series of books and TV shows about traveling to Europe, as well as a blog, Facebook page, Twitter account and regular column), and actor-turned-travel-writer Andrew McCarthy. I missed Brown, couldn’t find a seat for Steves (the surprising rock star of this industry), but was lucky to hear McCarthy’s entire talk, moderated by L.A. Times’ travel writer Christopher Reynolds.
McCarthy starred in approximately 1/3 of the most popular movies that came out when I was in high school, but has now built a successful career as a freelancer for some of the biggest travel magazines in America. (Note: building a film career is a great way to get National Geographic Traveler to take your pitch.) After many years of traveling and writing, he’s stumped by places that are more lovely than actually interesting to write about, but still encourages travel to “allow a place to change you for the better.”
And speaking of change for the better, I enjoyed a warm reception from tourism bureaus reps for Taiwan, Israel, India, Mongolia, Colombia and the South Pacific island nation of Tonga. At these booths, when I presented myself as a travel blogger, stated my niche, general readership, and desire to see these countries for myself and write about them, all seemed inquisitive and receptive to the idea of my joining familiarization (fam) trips to these countries in the future; several expressed a desire to know more about travel blogs in general.
This face time was incredibly valuable, as some tourism bureau reps consider the influence of travel bloggers difficult to quantify and we’re sometimes dismissed out of hand via email. In an effort to spread the good word about travel blogs — and keep learning about the industry — I’m looking forward to more travel shows in the future.