Inside the “Super Bowl of the Travel Industry” the New York Times Travel Show

It’s January in New York City, where more than 30,000 people brave the cold and the Midtown Manhattan madness to attend the Super Bowl of travel trade shows in North America – the New York Times Travel Show.

The trade show floor is an ocean of tourism bureaus and travel companies with burgeoning bounties of brochures and business cards meant to inspire the starry-eyed instagram influencers and to entice enterprising travel agents to choose their place or way of travel.

It’s an epic (if overwhelming) extravaganza for explorers.

I’ll share some honest (if solipsistic) observations of the busiest sections of the trade show and the buzziest topics of the industry-focused seminars.

Big takeaways from the industry seminars were the increasing interest in the growing community of LGBTQ travelers, in the upstart young millennial travelers (and their values of both environmentalism and instagrammable locations), in catering to the diverse needs of family travelers, and the whole industry moving more toward profound, transformational travel (we’re trendsetters at AirTreks, obvi).

On the giant trade show floor I found something valuable at nearly every stall. I personally left with deepened interest in hiking all of Japan, in witnessing first-hand the happiness of Bhutan, and in the sheer bloody-mindedness of stepping foot on Antarctica.

If you’re a traveler, here are the places in the show that had the most aisle-clogging foot traffic:

  • Japan: there were two and a half Japan sections (strategically positioned next to South Korea), and they were absolutely jammed the entire weekend. Tables were stuffed with offerings of dynamic cities, endless variants of outdoor adventures, extraordinary culinary entreaties, and cultural endeavors. They even had a “kimono station” where people could dress in full kimono for the ‘gram. I now have a map of Japan on my wall and am planning an AirTrek with Japan as my primary stop. I was already planning a visit to walk the Kumano Kodo this year, but now I’m thinking about doing much more of the country. They got me, I admit it.

  • African Safaris: the center of the trade show floor was a superhighway of safari companies offering packages to the Serengeti of Tanzania, the Masai Mara of Kenya, the Moremi reserve in Botswana, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and countless jungles or mountain treks throughout Africa. How can I describe it? It felt like taking part in a great circular migration, many of our fellows who strayed to the outside of the pack were pleasantly preyed upon by friendly tour operators. It was grisly. South Africa was a major sponsor of the show, and from top to bottom, Africa was on full display.

  • Chernobyl: Yes, seriously. The marketing people in Chernobyl are immune to your judgmental toxicity. They proudly paraded their balloons with nuclear fallout symbols on them and were unfazed by their position in the very back corner of the show – almost buried as if in an attempt to ward people away from some kind of disaster. Instead of having a full meltdown, they just leaned into the whole radiation motif and were positively radiant about tramping through the stillness of the strange, beautiful, dystopian landscape. Maybe this is the ultimate instagrammable location? Difficult to get into, possibly dangerous, effortless visual storytelling… but not North Korea or the North Pole. The crowd’s reaction? Their booth was brimming.

  • Honorable mentions to the great big beautiful exhibits about India, South Africa, Morocco, Puerto Rico, Italy, Israel, Scotland, Antarctica, cruises (especially river cruising), adventure travel, family travel, and at least three stalls about Bhutan. The whole world really was on display, and it was fun to be among a community of aspirational travelers looking to fill up their passports and experience their best lives.

Oh, if you want to visit some of these places, here’s the route I’m working on:

  • LA – Osaka – Kathmandu – Bhutan – New Delhi – Rome – Zurich – Edinburgh – NYC (less than $2000)

  • NYC – Puerto Rico – Buenos Aires – Cape Town – Marrakesh, Morocco – NYC (less than $4000)