The 2022 World Travel Market reminds us of the power of personal connection
December 9, 2022
The recent World Travel Market 2022 highlights just how pivotal face-to-face travel events are after COVID-19
World Travel Market 2022 (WTM) welcomed over 35,800 participants to the industry leading international travel event as it returned to London this November, presenting over double the recorded attendance of 2021 for which the event adopted an in-person, virtual hybrid model. With an influx of travel professionals, leading industry stakeholders and business leaders, travel buyers, ministerial personnel, and international media present across three days – WTM delivered a strong reminder of the power of in-person connectivity within the travel sector amidst the new age of digital meetings.
The annual convening of the global travel industry at WTM is a calendar staple for all connected with the sector. It provides an integral opportunity to foster new global business partnerships, connect with fellow professionals, hear from leading companies, travel providers and tourism destinations, about the latest news, data, and insights. It also offers a unique platform to connect with international press and buyers.
National and regional tourism boards from around the world take the opportunity to highlight and exhibit their brands by hosting a stand – each refreshingly bespoke to best depict the array of unique cultures and attractions. Panel sessions and keynote addresses enable a platform to address industry challenges, curate meaningful discussions amongst stakeholders and outline the latest trends driving industry growth.
Strong WTM attendance in 2022 reflects industry sentiment
WTM welcomed strong engagement including ministerial representation from 55 nations across the world – up 15% on 2021, 165% increase in exhibiting personnel versus 2021, and over 1500 media in attendance. This represents more than a 70% increase on 2021.
In the lead up to WTM in 2022, there was much anticipation for the opportunity to physically connect with people from around the world across a complete schedule of speaker sessions and exhibitor stands. According to the organisers of the event, the volume of attendance this November exceeded expectation, further pointing towards the increasingly strong recovery of the travel sector as professionals and media look to build on their engagements for 2023.
The appetite to travel and explore the world is growing in part due to consumer demand to make up for the lost time during the pandemic, according to industry commentators who have coined the term ‘revenge travel’ as a key trend for 2023 – the notion that international restrictions reminded the public of the great benefits afforded by travelling to different corners of the world, building new memories and experiences, and ignited a reinvigorated demand to do so. For instance, a survey of 2,500 customers by UK based company The Personal Travel Agents found 99% would take at least one holiday in 2023, with 81% planning several despite the challenges posed by the economic situation across the world.
WTM has had to diversify to combat challenges
The travel industry, like many others around the world, has had to adapt to the immense challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. As international travel ground to a halt, in line with international restrictions, so too did the possibility to hold in-person meetings and events. In 2020, WTM took the decision to go ahead with plans for the event, but instead shifting to an entirely virtual programme for the first time since the inaugural show in 1980.
At the time, the prospect of connecting virtually with fellow professionals and media had become somewhat normalised – after months of video calls adapting to the restrictions imposed by lockdowns around the world and prohibited social gatherings. However, in the absence of face-to-face interaction, the ability to build personal relationships and deliver fully immersive and engaging representations of destinations – both of which are crucial for the travel sector – became a more complex matter. The following year, in 2021, WTM returned to ExCeL London, albeit with a hybrid programme of in-person and virtual sessions.
The power of personality in travel
The importance of personal meetings and exhibitions is not lost on those within the PR and marketing industry, particularly from a travel perspective. As representors of brands and destinations, professionals adopt the role of communicators and storytellers, leveraging the ability to relay information and unique selling points – to best depict the character and appeal of the respective brand in order to create a cut-through.
WTM provided a crucial opportunity to create new or build on existing rapports with press: to inform them of the latest news, initiatives and offerings of travel businesses and destinations. Meeting face-to-face enabled those exhibiting to inject a sense of passion and personality that can be felt by physical energy. Exhibitor stands also provided the opportunity to showcase glimpses of what different destinations have to offer from a cultural perspective – including everything from music and performances to small samples of native cuisine.
Physical meetings are also beneficial in terms of forging new business partnerships. Speaking on a panel during WTM, Vice President of Insights for ForwardKeys, Oliver Ponti, summarised the importance of physical meetings when discussing business travel, saying: “We heard a lot of talk during the pandemic about business travel never coming back again. This is certainly not true. People have realised if you want to close a deal it’s much better to speak in person, because if you don’t, your competitors will steal it from you.”
In the post-pandemic age of hybrid working and digital meetings, this year’s WTM reinforced the importance of face-to-face events. Importantly, it delivered a stark reminder that sometimes there is simply no substitute for physical interaction.
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