I like travel fairs but only in principle. I often go to them and leave wondering if I was simply wasting my time.
You know, these types of events are so often so lame. You go there hoping to be inspired, to get new experiences and to feel like you are visiting the whole world at once – stuck inside a conference centre.
What you are actually left with is a few travel guides you bought because they were on a 10 per cent discount and a bag full of adverts. Actually, the only nice experiences I even vaguely remember have been on the stands that no one has been paying too much attention to.
A few years ago at Helsinki’s travel fair, I avoided the queues for the packed stands of Spain, France, the US and Italy, and had a good chat with Iranian travel officials who fed me with their exotic candies and gave me posters and even a special poster bag to carry them. They were all soon thrown in the bin but the impression left by this country, nowadays considered to be so dangerous and distant, was warm.
It’s better if countries can avoid the regular stereotypes and clichés you see on stands. Finns always seem to do the same thing – they’ll take a sauna and a few Finnish silver birches to the expos around the globe. Other countries try to impress audiences with their knowledge on computer programming or simply fill their areas with flags and some random babble about democracy.
But last weekend in north London I saw a national display that was a real highlight. An old friend happened to know that there was an Anatolian festival taking place in a park nearby. One of the events taking place there was a wrestling match.
And not just any wrestling. In this case it happened to be all about Turkish oil wrestling. Not everyone has heard of this so a short explanation is probably needed. The whole point seemed to be to be to get covered in as much oil as possible. The wrestlers would then try to stick their hands down their opponents trousers and lift them upside down. Well, that’s my perception of it. To be honest I had no idea of the rules.
My friends and I were the only people present who seemed to find this even slightly amusing. And supposedly, these athletes had been brought in all the way from Istanbul.
It may not be the image that innovative and vibrant countries want to deliver but I liked it. If you saw this taking place in a travel fair, would you not stick around for a little longer?
At least it was a real experience, not just a brochure or two and a biscuit you can get from your local supermarket. I would be delighted if I could experience a surprise or two when I go to my next travel fair.