14 November 2007

I wish World Travel Market was back at Earls Court!

WTM at Earls Court
Monday was 'day one' of the annual World Travel Market (WTM) and I was reminded yet again how much I hate the venue.

I've attended WTM every year since 1989. In those days it was held at Olympia, but it quickly outgrew that venue and moved in 1991 to Earls Court. In 2002 it moved to ExCel in the docklands.


So what's wrong with ExCel?

Its design and its location.

Design

I'm sure its marvelous for exhibitors. A vast purpose built space with no impediments (pillars, low ceilings, angled walls) so designers can take flight without restriction, and organisers can fit thousands of people and stands into it. Good access for trucks. Amazing facilities (catering, technical services, etc).

But from a visitor's perspective it is a nightmare. The two identical halls with a central "boulevard" between them are totally dis-orienting. There is nothing to distinguish them so visitors have to spend ages concentrating on maps to work out which way they need to go. In Earls Court you knew the Far East & Global village sections were in the back hall. North America, South America & the Far East could be found on the balcony and the UK & Europe was downstairs.....easy. If you looked around you, you could see at a glance where you were. At ExCel, you toss a coin and set off in the hope you are in the right hall and at the right end of it.

And I'm not just making a silly fuss. It is serious. I was blessed with a good sense of direction. I'm always sub-consciously aware of uphill/downhill, where shadows are, where the wind is coming from, etc. So I instinctively know which direction I'm facing. I'm also one of the few people I know who can find their way back to anywhere after just one visit.....but in ExCel, I am lost.

There are other problems with the design.

The break-out rooms are along endless corridors that run the full length of Excel. The skeletons of journalists last seen heading east or west looking for a press conference, have been found the following year in the wilderness extremities of those corridors! Maybe they recognised the problem (so few journos finding the right room in time) because this year and last they seem to have concentrated more press conferences in the rooms at the Press centre.

And focus. There is no focal point at Excel. There is a programme of events each day at WTM. In Earls Court these were held on the main stage in the middle of the hall - a natural amphitheatre with the balcony all around. I can honestly say, in the five years I have been attending WTM at Excel I have not seen one 'mainstage' event. Occasionally over the PA you are aware an event is going on somewhere... but god knows where!


Location

Earls Court is in London. ExCel is stuck out in some remote industrial wilderness at the end of an obscure branch line of the DLR.

Getting there and getting away is a horrible, complicated and lengthy process.

It hasn't got any better since the debacle of the first day in 2002 when the DLR service was overwhelmed and practically ground to a halt. (DLR executives could look out of their HQ windows overlooking Westferry and see WTM visitors trying not to fall off the packed platform as they were forced to change trains because there were no direct trains from bank to ExCel!)

In fact for me, this year it got noticeably worse. They've 'nerfed' my route from North London. I used to be able to catch a Silverlink train from Highbury & Islington to the Custom House station at ExCel, thus avoiding the DLR sardine trains. That's gone now, for some reason.

Frankly it is simpler, and almost as quick, to get to the NEC outside Birmingham.

I expect WTM is simply too large to leave ExCel - it now attracts 40,000+ trade visitors, including 5,000 exhibitors - but I miss Earls Court.

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