When I hear the word “travel fair”, I usually think of crowded exhibition halls where travel agencies peddle toured packages. How useful could such a fair be for indie travellers like me?
In the name of research, I decided to pop by the NATAS Fair at expo last weekend. (NATAS is the National Association Travel Agents Singapore.) Held each quarter, the fairs are so popular that people (like me) don’t mind paying S$4 just to get in.
After you pay S$4, they tie a paper tag around your wrist which allows you to enter the halls again on the same day.
So, how useful was the fair? I had three things I needed help with:
1. Information for my March Yogyakarta trip
2. Explanation about a cruise
3. Find a tour agency to help with a round-the-world ticket
I decided that if all three simple problems were solved, then travel fairs can be useful for indie travellers.
When you step in the hall, there is immediate sensory overload: clash of color, towering posters on booths, noise, flyer shovers and the crowd.
#1 was solved quite easily. There were country-specific pavilions around, I went to the Indonesian pavilion and took two different maps of Yogyakarta.
A lot of times, having a map of the city before arriving is very useful because I love reading maps and planning routes based on maps.
Most of the country pavilions have smaller booths inside which sell land packages or hotel packages. I usually choose my hotels based on whatever I see, Lonely Planet recommendations (not that good a strategy) or online reviews so I don’t think I would need the packages touted there.
Away on cruise
I was a bit shy about approaching the cruise company’s pavilion but did it anyway because that was the main purpose I wanted to go to the expo.
The lady there had purple eyeshadow and was really helpful.
I asked about the specific cruise I had my eye on. It wasn’t in her brochures as it was a repositioning cruise and departs overseas.
But she helped me check if there were cheaper rooms for that cruise (No), and answered my many cruise novice questions: Are meals covered? Do I need to buy the excursion tours? Is it better to book now or near departure date? What else do I need to be aware of? etc.
This was the trickiest problem. Even online, I could not find a Singapore company that specializes in RTW tickets.
Most of the booths that I passed sold packaged tours. A line from a travel agent that I remember is: “Yes, there will be four meals.”
I finally found STA Travel. I remembered that the UK site has RTWs, but at the travel fair there was none. Only promotions for 2012.
The lady even told me that I’d better visit their office where the agents might be of more help.
One thing that I didn’t know I wanted to know was long-term travel insurance.
The annual travel insurance that I have now has a travel limit of 30 days, not very useful for a RTW.
I found out that there is a company that has an annual plan and covers up to 90 days of travelling. But I will need to top up extra after day 90th.
Since I have 2 out of my 3 problems sorted out, and a bonus question answered, I’d say that the travel fair was useful for me.
I also happen to grab a keychain from the Macau booth and a raffia bag with super gaudy ad for a travel insurance company. These could be useful one day, I think.
Do you visit travel fairs?