World Travel Market: a very bad week for trees

A mighty Sequoia tree

A mighty Sequoia tree

We’re only three weeks away from World Travel Market (WTM), and the world’s trees are once again in mortal danger as this major annual event approaches. Like turkeys lined up for Christmas, they will be destroyed without mercy in the chaotic dash to produce tens of thousands of brochures, catalogues, flyers, magazines and glossy folders for the guests who will pound the floors of London’s ExCel centre. Is there no viable substitute for this paper mountain? Or should we call time in this wired world on the incredible amount of paper wasted at these major events?

I attended my first WTM as an exhibitor. The weeks leading up to the show were taken up with preparing the right flyers, getting them printed in good time and packing them up in attractive looking folders. It was with great satisfaction that after speaking to passing visitors for a couple of minutes I was able to pack them off with a glossy folder full of my own words.

I should have known. As we cleared up after the show I caught a glimpse of the boxes of leftover brochures that were left behind. Some were abandoned by exhibitors who walked away leaving their mess for others to clear up. Others were strewn across the bursting bins of the conference halls. And there was more. On the way to the underground, attendees were emptying their bags into the bins outside, while discarded travel brochures piled up on the DLR train as the carriage emptied in central London.

Goodness knows how many of these brochures ever got read, and how many were instantly dropped in domestic recycling boxes. But I will stick my neck out to suggest that of all the millions (yes, millions!) of pages of paper created and distributed at WTM, only a tiny fraction ever got blessed with even the slightest glance. And the greatest irony? So many of these organisations are championing the green message through these by-products of arboreal genocide.

For exhibitors that have failed to engage with someone during their face to face interaction at the stand, the chance of someone actually reading the material they’ve walked away with and reconnecting with them is slim to none. Successful exhibiting is all about making a personal connection; it always has been.

Some are thankfully waking up to the reality of the modern world and at last switching to less wasteful methods. Last year a few tourist boards gave their materials on a memory stick; I know because I’ve kept them. At the recent AITO event I attended the entire press packs of all exhibitors were given to us on a single USB stick as we left. Not only did I take away far more material than I would ever have taken otherwise, but I was actually far more inclined to read the electronic content.

Hundreds of exhibitors at this year’s event are making their final preparations for what for them will be an important and very expensive week in London. At this time the little strapline that is found at the bottom of many emails should perhaps figure prominently in their minds: Think before you print.

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10 Responses to “World Travel Market: a very bad week for trees”

  1. Yeah the amount of waste at these big trade shows is quite sickening, not to mention disheartening for some of the companies producing the stuff. The USB pack is a much better idea definitely. And I’m looking forward to getting my Poken to swap details with others sad enough to have one. :-)
    This’ll be my first WTM, any tips for navigating the maelstrom which awaits me?

    October 18, 2010 at 2:10 pm
  2. I don’t know if they still do it, but Fedex used to sponsor free mailing for international delegates attending Pow Wow (similar sized convention in the USA) each year.

    You could go into the mailing room – and get a couple of jiffy bags to mail brochures back home. The trouble was the weight limit was only 2 or 3 kgs, which forced everybody to discard tons of brochures in a vast heap.

    I always used to think how disheartening that must be for the exhibitors who, like you Andy, spent so much time & money producing them and getting them to the venue.

    What we need is for World Travel Market / Reed Exhibitions (are you listening guys?) to develop an Android & iphone app so exhibitors & visitors can ‘bump’ smartphones and automatically transfer brochures and other docs.

    October 18, 2010 at 3:24 pm
  3. Hi Andy!

    I have a post about Fitur called fitur and Dyogenes sydrome talking about the same issue, in my case I took pics of all the kind of people that went to the fair to get free stuff.

    I don´t know what this people do with all the posters and stuff…

    October 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm
  4. Thanks for the comments folks.
    Jools, was fascinated by the Poken idea – have you found others with a Poken to share contact details with? It’s the first I’ve heard of it.
    Alastair – your idea of an App is a good one, and a low-tech equivalent for those of us without fancy phones. How anyone will get through 2kg plus of trade show bumph is beyond me.
    Kailos, I was stunned by that video clip from FITUR! I’m going to post it on Twitter now.. thanks for sharing

    October 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm
  5. Not actually got mine yet, but I first heard about pokens prior to the last tweetup here in Edin about a month ago. Didn’t see many folk brandishing them there to be honest. Maybe there will be a big enough nucleus of geeky people at WTM to wear it with pride, high fiving each other to swap details…or it could just be me..

    October 18, 2010 at 3:58 pm
  6. I was really excited this year to attend Go Media in Canada – and reading up on the website before I went, it seemed to suggest that it would be memory sticks all round for info – great! Of course, the reality was that you’d be often given both a memory stick AND a wodge of info, to the point that when I got to the airport, I was 4kg over the baggage limit… so had to dump brochures, pamphlets, booklets etc etc!
    Flinging all that into bin makes me feel bad. I know how much work goes into these things but from a green perspective it makes no sense to give me a brochure which i’ll inevitably have to dump… and also – how useful is it anyway? If I need an image, I need to call it in anyway – just give it me all on a stick in the first place! I’ve decided to say no to Big Paper at WTM, this year. I’ll take cards and sticks – but that’s it. Enough already.

    October 18, 2010 at 9:49 pm
  7. Not just WTM, I’m afraid. On several work trips I’m presented with hefty tomes and glossy magazines. Out of politeness (if nothing else!) I’d like to keep them but airline weight limits (and my back) have clearly defined limits…Either a memory stick – or even a press section on a website (both airport security and my feeble frame can stretch to a stack of business cards if you want to password protect it) would be much better. Lightweight, environmentally friendly, computerized search for details when you need them….Much better!

    November 4, 2010 at 11:06 pm
  8. A bit of an update.

    I was reminded of this post a couple of weeks ago when I saw this post on the Poken blog.

    Watch the video. We could really use the document collecting feature… not to mention the jeans!

    I’m beginning to feel a bit evangelistic about Poken (perhaps I should ask them for a commission deal!). It’s ridiculous that every day of the week, social media-enthusiastic travel PRs and media are gathering in trade events, product launches and press briefings…. and not using technology like this. It would only take a few forward-thinking PRs to put Pokens (is that the plural?) in goodie-bags to start building a little critical mass.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:32 pm
  9. Will watch the Poken with interest. Definitely worthwhile, as well as things like QR readers – they already exist and are in mass use. If people just gave out a card with a QR code on it then you can scan it when you get home and voila, you have all their info on your computer. Even better than memory sticks! I even added it to my business cards for the first time so that people can scan it if they want to get direct access to my blog. Nerdy I know and not sure if it will be well received.

    October 18, 2011 at 11:53 am


  1. Poken - Maybe It's Time! - - October 19, 2011

    [...] be interested in them. Last year Andy Jarosz (@501places) wrote quite an influential post about how World Travel Market was bad for trees and surely there was a better way to collect brochure data. Poken seemed to answer that [...]