The World Travel Market has been on in London this week. It’s one of the biggest events in the industry, with almost every country in the world sending a delegation and erecting a stand or pavilion, depending on how much cash they are willing to splash.
I appreciate a lot of work goes into it, but the WTM and I have never really got along. It’s extremely corporate and there is something about the ExCel centre that makes me want to run headfirst into a brick wall.
So, I’m pleased to see fringe events that have grown up around it, including the Responsible Tourism Networking night, which is now in its eighth year, and is organised by Sally Broom of Tripbod and Raj Gyawali of Social Tours. Aside from being an excuse for a few drinks in good company, it’s a platform for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas in front of an audience of potential partners and fellow travel enthusiasts.
The concept is simple: 60 seconds to take the mic and get across the premise of your company/plans/ideas. This year I had the honour of judging the ‘best pitch’.
In a room packed full of ideas, that was no easy task. It particularly refreshing to find a completely level playing field, where you could be well-established or just starting out. Pitches that stood out included Toursome (working on a plan to make audio guides to listen to on your phones on public London buses), Clear Oceans (trying to fight against the single-use plastic cluttering our seas), Much Better Adventures (a marketplace for independent tours) and Open Trips (who have I have written about before).
I found myself torn between two potential winners. Unseen Tours was mightily impressive, with its city tours guided by homeless people. The idea is to empower the homeless and let their voices by heard, instead of “leaving them to the indignity of begging”. Catherine’s pitch for them was spot on: clear, convincing, inspiring. Faultless.
But that left me with a dilemma. The one pitch that really roused people in the room was far less polished. Yasmin from Lovedesh, a new company of “third world scouts”, was as straight talking as they come. “I want to bring people to the so-called ‘shitholes’ of the world! People from Bangladesh don’t want to be known just for being flood victims!” Instead she wanted to celebrate positive aspects of the culture, including the prized wood-fire curry. She says she also aims to bring people to Rwanda, Palestine, Kasmir. How? Well, we weren’t entirely sure. Her ideas seemed to be in their early stages and the pitch a little abstract at times, but her impassioned, and pretty angry, speech certainly got the attention of the room and, as I found out later, it also got her a mentor, which she said was her main reason for coming – to meet people who could help and advise her. (And, incidentally, using the controversial term ‘third world’ is deliberate – her way of drawing attention back to the inequalities and stigma.)
So who to pick? One fairly established company that really deserved recognition for a brilliant, well-executed idea? Or a fiery newcomer with potential?
Fortunately, event sponsor Citizen M very kindly came to the rescue, offering two prizes, instead of one. This means that Yasmin (pictured above) gets a night at one of their hotels, and has also been well and truly spurred on to put her ideas into practice. And, in a heartwarming twist, Unseen will be giving their prize night’s stay to one of their guides.
All in all, a very inspiring evening, and it even spurred me to resurrect my semi-retired blog.