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November 10, 2009

World Travel Market turns 30

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The World Travel Market, the world’s biggest travel trade show, turned 30 this year. Basically, the market is about countries (and sometimes really big cities, like New York), selling themselves and their tourism experiences to travel companies and the media (particularly on the first day of the four-day fair) from around the world.

The World Travel Market is held in a massive exhibition centre called ExCeL, near Canary Wharf in London, and thousands upon thousands of people attend it.

Countries go to great trouble to market their wares – massive screens showcasing azure beaches, palaces and cathedrals (depending on the country) are the order of the day. These are sometimes supplemented with people dressed in traditional costume, local fauna and sometimes even food and wine.

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South Africa Tourism, occupying the prime position in the Africa section, did South Africa especially proud this year. A large welcome desk was backed by a screen showcasing our wonders, from wildlife to the Blyde River Canyon, and 2010 mascot Zakumi did the rounds, kissing and hugging people.

Football was a special theme in the South Africa section this year, with the 2010 FIFA World Cup coming up in South Africa next year. For example, staff at Cape Town Tourism gave away T-shirts, memory sticks with trade information about Cape Town on them, whistles, soccer badges and pens. (The Cape Town stall was particularly popular, by the way, with interested people coming up to the desk to make meeting times and get information all day long.)

At the entrance to the World Travel Market, there was a team of people teaching the diski dance. I tried my hand (legs) at it and walked away with a vuvuzela and 2010 soccer ball – both of which I dished out to delighted English friends last night.

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Despite all the glitz and excitement, it was also quite a sobering experience. Yes, 2010 will be a massive event and will pull South Africa arguably more media coverage than any other event in our history, but at the same time, the world moves on, and 2010 is not as important in many other people’s eyes as it might seem in ours. London’s 2012 Olympics is around the corner, there are Commonwealth Games coming up later in 2010…

It was also sobering to see how much money other countries spend on their international marketing. Greece and Portugal’s stands alone were about the size of the African section. Egypt has put a lot of money into its destination marketing, with beautiful advertisements all over London’s Underground and large banners and billboards throughout World Travel Market.

The international tourism market is an incredibly competitive one, and we can’t be complacent about our beautiful country and what we offer tourists for a single minute.

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