Cover image: Bahamas’ colorful display © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC
“YOU BELONG HERE.” – Provincetown, MA (From ManAboutWorld Trade Day Reception)
The New York Times Travel Show was full of booths, amazing travelisto/as, awe-inspiring presentations and performances, and loads of places to go and places to stay, no matter who you are and where you are from. This year featured a LGBTQ section, organized by the handsome, beautiful and lovely people from gay travel magazine ManAboutWorld.
Every year, the NYT Travel Show draws thousands of visitors stuffing bags with brochures and goodies from the different booths. While many of the freebies including the quintessential key chains, some were very creative and special. Mexico’s Puebla region gave out USB drives with pictures and videos of the region. Of course, the live performances stages and cooking demos were again bustling with entertaining shows and serving tasty treats. As one who loves food, I checked out the Introduction to the Taste of the World presentation, where the speakers demonstrated how they would cook an easy “breakfast couscous” in their RV via the on-stage stovetop.
Camp Cody from New Hampshire had interactive activities for kids (and adults) such as making s’mores. In the same section there was also a compact RV from Taxa, Inc., on display, which I was able to go inside and experience how practical for traveling all over the United States this RV was.
As expected, the Caribbean section was full of color, music and energy. Since the end of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Cuban Guru has been promoting guided tours to island at the travel show, and assured that the travel agents are all Cubans who cater itineraries to each customer, and take care of essentially everything, including your visa.
Korea’s Winter Olympics-themed booth was full of interactive activities such as fishing and curling, which came with various prizes. Many customers were seen taking pictures with Korea’s Winter Olympic mascots who hung out around the booth as well.
Indonesia’s vibrant, mystical carnival costumes stood out as well, which led customers to find out that Indonesia is not just Jakarta and Bali. With over 17,000 islands in the country, there is a lot of diversity and natural beauty that the country has to offer – such as the “hidden secret” (or not so much anymore), Raja Ampat, which had breathtaking views and pictures/videos on display.
Brazil’s booth was serving an açai drink, which naturally attracted many customers to hear what Brazil was all about. Ms. Masche from Rio de Janeiro said that the “quality of life has become better” after the Olympics, as she is able to easily take the train from her home to the center of Rio now. She also mentioned that Brazil’s visa system has changed for the better. It is cheaper ($40) for U.S. citizens and is an electronic visa that can be processed within 72 hours.
Taiwan proudly served bubble tea, which natural attracted many customers who formed a line circling around their booth. Israel served wine, which naturally attracted winos like myself to go to their booth and hear what they have to offer.
Being Japanese, I was very proud to see the organized Japan booths full of customers, and the Ashura live ninja performance presented by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). They combined suspense, action and humor in a truly shocking, yet enjoyable performance that was interactive and entertaining to watch.
The non-cliché destinations in the Europe section of were Azores, Ukraine, and Belarus. Azores, part of Portugal, was a place that I had never heard of, but after hearing about this remote island state from travel agent Mr. Joao, I am highly convinced that this hidden gem (only 5 hours away from JFK!) is the place to be.
The Ukraine booth was promoting adventure tours, such as a Chernobyl tour, a Shooting tour, and a Tank driving tour. This “politically incorrect” Eastern European country that had only been truly independent for 4 years, was proudly promoting its craziness and uniqueness. Belarus, as it is “where Soviet Union began and ended,” promoted its combination of influence from the Soviet Union (i.e. tank riding) and Western culture (i.e. castles from the medieval times). They were also promoting their “5 Days Visa-Free” initiative, which has already attracted an influx of tourists.
Although South Africa’s booth was by far the most colorful, biggest, and most vibrant, Rwanda’s tour companies stood out to me as the travel agents promoted cultural tours and safari tours in traditional Rwandan dress in the Africa section.
The presentation floor was downstairs, and I watched Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods being interviewed in a large, full pressroom (three rooms combined). Initially, I did not know much about Mr. Zimmern other than the fact that he was a chef on Bizarre Foods. After the talk, I became a fan. He spoke about his childhood growing up in New York City. He kept the audience engaged in his witty, long-winded answers, as he pronounced ‘pho’ like ‘fo,’ “because I am not Vietnamese, and that is the same reason why I would not pronounce ‘Van Gogh’ like ‘Van Gogh’ (imitating Dutch pronunciation).”
When asked about immigration in the United States, and he said, “The U.S. is like the New England Patriots. Every year we get the best players.” As a self-proclaimed “glass full-full guy,” Mr. Zimmern added that no matter where we live, what language we speak, or what kind of food we eat, “We have more things that unite us than divide us.” Mr. Zimmern continued to show us his authentic and down-to-earth side, when he admitted to having struggled with ‘happiness’ as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and said that where and when he is happiest is when he is with his son by the water. He closed the talk by complimenting the gastronomical diversity and deliciousness that Queens, New York has to offer (which I completely agree with), and with the thought, ‘Travel is transformative.” Travel changes who we are and how we think.
After inspired by the talk, I visited one of Bhutan’s booths, and was very curious to know why it had been called “the happiest country in the world.” Mr. Tshewang of Zhidey Bhutan Tours & Treks explained that it is the least developed country, and the more developed a country becomes, the more materialistic one becomes, leading to unhappy citizens. He added that backpackers are not allowed in Bhutan, in order to preserve the culture. He also said that one never starves in Bhutan, because “if you have a problem, it is our responsibility to help you.” In Bhutan, people are not focused on the future, as long as one is happy today.
Let us travel more and see the world and become happier, better citizens.