LONDON - It’s an impressive world in here.
You can chat with a 10-foot-tall penguin from the Falkland Islands, relax in the first-class suite of an Emirates Airline A380 and pretend to sit behind the wheel of a tuk-tuk in Thailand. You also can get a massage in Indonesia, chat about trips to Montreal and get all weepy looking at giant posters of perfect, white sand beaches in Maui, Mauritius and the Maldives.
The annual World Travel Market in London is a crazy, wild, impossible scene with tourism boards from around the globe meeting with buyers and journalists to nail down upcoming travel plans. Every day, thousands and thousands of folks stream out of London’s Docklands Light Rail system (memo to Toronto city council: light rail WORKS GREAT) and pour into a hall as long as five football fields and as wide as three, huddling to talk about hiking trips in St. Lucia or ski trips to Banff.
A gentleman from Daytona Beach told me business was up substantially on the Monday, traditionally a slow day at the four-day event. Others agreed the event, which ended today, was a big one. And that’s good for tourism as a whole.
Some countries were so low-key as to be almost non-existent. Australia, which is struggling due to a high dollar and world economic woes, and New Zealand had a combined display that was extremely minimalist.
The best shows were undoubtedly put on by Asia and central and South America. India had folks parading about in wild costumes of pink and blue and orange. Colombia had women in red and yellow dresses with giant flowers and huge bowls of fruit in metal bowls on their heads. Bolivia had women wearing traditional bowler hats. Panama had men in black pants and white shirts with straw hats and black and white shoes like something out of the 1920’s, plus women in frilly dresses and a woman in a long, slinky, gold dress and legs that reached halfway to the moon.
Abu Dhabi for some reason had folks posing with silly outfits on a green screen. You had your choice of a bunch of weird bits in a basket near the camera. I chose a Batman mask with huge, colourful sunglasses that splled out the word “COOL” and a red feather boa, which looked rather smashing with my grey and black sports jacket from Banana Republic. There’s a shot of this in existence, but it’s hidden in a safe place and I will deny the photo exists unless Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair threatens to go public with it, in which case I’ll have to fess up.
There were, naturally, a few drinks being poured. The California folks served up tasty wines from Sonoma and Santa Barbara. Canada poured wine from Niagara and B.C. Cuba? Tasty mojitos and Havana rum with lime, thank you very much. And Texas served up marvellous margaritas; not easy in a country when you sometimes get a lemon in your drink after asking for a lime.
Some of the booths were incredibly lavish. Egypt had a big whack of small Sphinxes and hieroglyphics around their booth, perhaps trying to gain attention at a time when many tourists are avoiding the country. India had a giant Buddha. Fiji had guys with tattoos and grass skirts doing handicrafts on the floor. The Falkland Islands had the aforementioned penguin, and Iraq had a giant blue and gold faux mosque that the tourism folks insisted I stand in front of for a photo, after which they plied me with brochures and a calendar and postcards. At least some folks went by the Iraq booth. I never saw anyone hanging out around poor Turkmenistan. Or Afghanistan. Or Uzbekistan, for that matters.
Ontario had a small section, as did Toronto, which was displaying a shot of some folks on the CN Tower Edge Walk and a nice night photo of the Ontario College of Art and Design. Quebec had a good-sized group, as did the Atlantic provinces, Alberta and British Columbia. Oh, and the Yukon, which is an awesome place to visit if you've never had the chance.
I wouldn’t have minded more of a “come look at us” booth from Toronto, but maybe given the political shenanigans back home it was better to lay low this year.
There wasn’t a lot of splash at the Canadian booth, but the night of their cocktail reception they DID have a woman wearing high heels and a black dress outfitted with a black Canada hockey jersey and a black helmet, which was set off nicely with bright red lipstick. I’m not going to ask my wife to try the look anytime soon but it was interesting.
The contrast between Canada and the U.S. was huge. The Harper government hasn’t a clue when it comes to the importance of tourism and has slashed funding for the Canadian Tourism Commission at a time when the U.S. has invested big time in the industry. The U.S. a couple years back created something called Brand USA to push tourism, and they had signs and booths and people all over the place.
Individual states also put on a show. Florida had a booth that was bigger than all of the Canadian section. They also had a group of cheerleaders doing chants on Monday as they served up mini hot-dogs and hamburgers and paraded giant models from The Simpsons show.
New York’s booth also was the size of Canada's, as New York also is making a push for tourism, and they put on a great cocktail party at a cool bar called Beach Blanket Babylon in the Shoreditch area of London on Monday night.
California also was very much front and centre, as was Texas. I would’ve liked to have seen a Washington D.C. booth with President Obama holding a pair of binoculars and peering over towards Germany’s booth. But no luck.
I always find it amusing to look at slogans that countries come up with. One sign said “Bermuda: So Much More.” A few feet away, however, was this one: “Dominican Republic Has It All.” So I guess we know who won that battle.
It travels within me? Does that mean I don’t have to fly 16 hours next to a mother who brought a half used colouring book and two crayons for her two-year-old to entertain himself for half a day in the confined seven-by-eight-inch space of a modern airline seat? If Morocco travels within me, do I still have to clear customs in Marrakech? Can I still shop at the Duty Free Store?
Lest you think this was all play and drinking and eating, I’m happy to report that I did fill part of a notebook with some tasty tidbits, which I’ll save for Monday’s blog. I’ll also have a write up on Monday of the cool Montcalm Hotel at Brewery City in London; a fun place carved from an old brewery. And I'll pass on the delights of the Heathrow Express train from central London to the airport, a marvellous experience.