With the ability to learn about any destination in the world with a few strokes of a keyboard, why bother attending a travel industry trade show?
Because of the noise, the excitement about destinations, the possibility of winning a free trip somewhere exotic. There's a reason many of these shows happen in the winter -- because they provide a fantastic escape, at least for one dreamy afternoon.
That being said, trade shows can be overwhelming. More than 500 exhibitors from 150 different countries attend the annual New York Times Travel Show, one of the largest travel shows in the United States. (See a list of upcoming travel shows around the U.S. and Canada to find one near you.) Crowds tend to be just as massive, with thousands of attendees.
Here are nine tips for getting the most out of a travel trade show and surviving the masses.
Advance tickets are often cheaper than buying them the day of. For example, the Travel & Adventure Shows in Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and San Diego charge $10.75 per person for access to the exhibit hall floor if you buy tickets online before the show; day-of-the-show access costs $15.
With hundreds of vendors in attendance, a trade show can easily flabbergast you. John Golicz, CEO of the Travel & Adventure Show, suggests narrowing down your field of interest to a handful of destinations. "Create a bucket list of the next seven places you want to go to," Golicz advises, and focus your travel show time on vendors that service those spots.
Print out a copy of the exhibit map and use a highlighter pen to indicate the locations of the booths you're interested in.
That is, wear comfortable shoes (you'll be on your feet a long time), dress in layers (big convention centers can be breezy but also warm up when they get crowded), carry a backpack (to tote home giveaways and pamphlets), and bring a bottle of water and snacks.
That is when trade shows tend to be the least crowded, Golicz notes. Peak hours are usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The last hour or two are also less crammed, but keep in mind that you might not be getting the travel experts at their freshest.
Most people scour convention center floors for freebies like pens, pins and key chains. But ace trade show attendees know there are better things to nab -- especially raffles for free trips or other travel perks, and show-only discounts on hotels, package tours, rental cars and the like. Some shows, such as the Boston Globe Travel Show, list raffles, freebies and discounts ahead of time on their websites.
That said, if you have limited time and are on a mission to visit specific vendors, don't get distracted by the giant roulette wheels and confetti machines luring you to specific booths with prizes.
Industry celebrities are always a draw at trade shows. Travel Channel mainstays Samantha Brown and Andrew Zimmern often make appearances, as do travel writers such as Europe guidebook writer Rick Steves and Patricia Schultz, author of "1,000 Places to See Before You Die."
Cooking demonstrations and dance performances from around the world also add a little pizazz and can help inspire visiting new destinations. A bonus? Lectures and demos often give you a place to sit and rest.
Talking to vendor representatives from various countries is a key reason to attend a travel trade show; it can "really change your outlook on your next trip," Golicz says.
Some attendees shy away from talking to vendors, for fear they'll merely receive a salesman's schtick. Yet many of the representatives -- especially those who've traveled far from home -- are merely happy to talk about their national destination, not just sell you on a package deal. Five minutes later, you could be walking away with great insider's knowledge of a place for your next trip.
Like the inclusion of workshops and performances, travel trade shows have added family-friendly activities in the recent years. Riding a zip line over a maze of trade show booths doesn't hold a candle to careening through a rain forest in Costa Rica, but it's still pretty cool. Other activities often include rock-climbing walls, inflatable obstacle courses and dive pools.
Be mindful once again that these trade shows get crowded, and they're not a great place for children to go off on their own. Also, younger kids will likely get restless.
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--written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma