Aside from meeting Paul for a weekend, I was pretty excited to attend ITB Berlin (International Travel Bourse). It’s the largest travel trade event in the world. Within the context of my new job, ths is the biggest learning curve for me – the intricacies of the travel industry.
I was lucky to share a booth with our sister company, Exotissimo. What an eclectic mix of people. Edwin from Holland now lives in Bangkok. Pantanida is from Thailand, but runs our Berlin office. Wah Wah is from Myanmar. And Dominik is German but wrks in our Saigon office. And then little ol’ me from San Diego, California. This is one of the joys of being an expat is that you are always meeting super interesting people.
The exhibition itself, verges on ridiculous. I don’t think we have a convention hall in the US that could compare to the massive layout which is Berlin Messe. The site covers 160,000 square meters. Our booth was located in Hall 26b. We were one of over 11,098 exhibitors. On one day, I had a chunk of time available – 3 hours, and so I decided I would walk around the convention and take pictures of nice booths, as well as shop for brochure designs. I also just wanted to see as much as I could see.
I was already well familiar with the Asian countries. Thailand was at ITB in full force with a huge booth down the center of our hall. It contained a second story, as did many, with a VIP lounge. The Princess of Thailand was present at one of their daily cocktail parties, greeting guests and singing karaoke. She should really stick to her day job – but a lovely woman! Even some of the major islands, such as Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi and others had a huge booth. Thailand was doing it’s best to recover from the recent bad press they’ve been receiving.
The Philippines were also musically entertaining with a full band firing up at cocktail hour each evening. Our booth was across from Indonesia, which occupied an entire back wall. The stage in the middle hosted a variety of dancers throughout the day. Anytime you passed by India or Cambodia, you could see traditional dances.
And then there was Vietnam. Very little money was poured into the Vietnam booth. It was dimly lit and not warm or inviting at all. No entertainment. No cocktail parties. It really looked like the bastard child of SE Asia. Neglected and crying for attention. They did give out a mini-version of the traditional straw hats. That only served the purpose of making me giggle several times in a day as some non-industry person would walk by actually wearing one of these things. At one point I saw two huge men with what looked like safari gear on. Bellies protruding, cameras slung around their necks and backpacks full of brochures, with their tiny Vietnam hats on their heads, they looked like they were on some other-worldly travel adventure.
I’m glad I wasn’t posted in the Vietnam booth. The overall look was uninspiring, to say the least. And you know, Vietnam really needs to step up the pep. In the Asian market, all of the other countries have these cool slogans. Incredible India. Amazing Thailand. Philippines Wow. Fiji Me. Malaysia, Truly Asia. Indonesia, The Ultimate in Diversity. Uniquely Singapore. You get the idea.
And Vietnam’s slogan? Vietnam, The Hidden Charm. This country isn’t even interested in showing you it’s beauty. In the least, you have to hunt for it – because it’s hidden! What the hell? How about a bit more proactive like: Vietnam, Discover the Charm. Vietnam, Be Charmed. Charming Vietnam. I could go on and on. So there’s a little side project I hope to work on…help the government better represent itself and polish it up a bit! Me vs. the Vietnamese Government. Yeah – let’s see how that one goes!
My feet took me as far as a few of the European halls. I walked through Germany, a stark contrast to the colorful and mix of cultures in the Asian halls. Deutschland was designed very clean and simply. And Spain. OMG. Class, elegance, sophistication, power. I could have stayed in that hall all day. Very chic design and all of the people working were just beautiful. Impeccably dressed and stylish. The Spanish men are just gorgeous. There are no proper words to describe. Even though I was wearing a tailor-made suit, I fear I looked like a little ragamuffin in comparison. Oh those Spaniards! As much as I have always loved Italy, I think it is Spain which calls for me to live there someday.
The convention center at ITB Berlin is so huge that I couldn’t make it to some of the halls I really wanted to see, like Africa and South America. I would have loved to have seen Italy, too. Of course, I was curious about my home country – USA!
On the fourth day of the convention, the public is welcomed, and MY GOD was the stage is set for people watching. Our booth received great foot traffic on the business days. so the public days were nuts. And how weird are we humans? I put our CDs out and people would just come by and take one without having any clue what was on the CD. I also had two sets of picture books, which I use in my sales pitch. Gone. Why anyone would think that the heavy material was a brochure is beyond me.
While most of our tables were set with brochures for people to take, there were still a few appointments scheduled. And being the hospitable people we are, we had coffee ready and a bowl of tea cookies and snacks for our special guests. Yet members of the public would see the small bowl of treats on the table out of the corner of their eye and bee-line it for the cookies, take two or three and return to the traffic flow around the hall. BIZARRE.
Totally indescribable behavior aside, I realize that for some of these folks, they may never be able to afford to travel to Indonesia or Thailand or even Vietnam, or any host of other countries represented at the exhibition. And for them, this event served as a bit of a dream catcher. Bob and Betty, hand in hand, spending an entire day collecting brochures and CDs and give-aways from all over the world. They may even hang a few of the posters they received and sit at the dinner table saying, “Let go to Cambodia sometime, darling.” And if that makes Bob and Betty happy, to have a dream like that, or if it inspires any of the children present to backpack through South America one day…well then, what’s the harm? I just wish people wouldn’t get caught up in the frenzy of getting free ‘stuff’ and act like morons! Shameful!
Post-exhibition hours, I went along with the my colleagues for cocktail parties and dinners, even stayed out late a couple of nights. I learned a lot, saw much, observed every moment. With each person I met and each meeting I conducted, I realized more and more how happy and lucky I am to have this job. This is a very cool position to be in and I am very much looking forward to all that is to come. This big huge trade event is just the tip of the iceberg!
On the Bright Side,