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The Old Travel Show Is Dead, Long Live the New York Travel Festival

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Ethan Gelber
Ethan Gelber

On April 20 and 21, 2013, the New York Travel Festival casts its inaugural spell on the New York metropolitan area. Conceived of and given shape as something more inspiring and more anchored in place than the typical travel event, it aims "to reinvent the consumer travel show for a crowd seeking more interaction and a better sense of NYC and beyond."

In other words, it's nothing like the New York Times Travel Show, the DC Travel & Adventure Show or anything in that vein. And that's a very good thing. Very much in keeping with the thoughts expressed by Roni Weiss, founder of the New York Travel Festival, I think the standard-model travel show is well past its prime. Weiss says "The magic is gone." I say the old travel show is dead. Long live the New York Travel Festival!

Embrace Change
Change scares a lot of people. Unless made remarkably simple, breaking old habits and attempting new things take a lot of effort. But change is also critical, especially when something once tried and true has lost its vaunted utility. These days, 'disruption' is the word used -- perhaps a bit too often -- to convey the power and promise of as-yet untried and maybe too-good-to-be-true tactics that will change the way we do things for the better. Whatever term you prefer, I think it's healthy to challenge the status quo.

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With the advent of the New York Travel Festival, adherents to the standard-model consumer travel shows have been issued their challenge. And a refreshing number of people -- including thought-leading industry practitioners -- have come together to foster change by urging consumers to take new things into account when they travel. As a collective, it's an impressive and dizzying mix of personalities working to breathe life back into an ailing and broken beast.

Ok, broken may be too strong a word. Misguided? Misleading? Misanthropic? Maybe all of the above. One thing is certain, though: the New York Travel Festival is a very different animal. It re-injects a couple of critical qualities back into the mix: people and places.

"The demographic we're going for sees travel as an extension of life, not as a way to escape from it," reports Weiss. "We're trying to reinvent the travel show for people who are tired of the convention-center, booth-based model. Part of our pedigree is local travel, as a package ticket that includes tours in NYC, all done by smaller companies with many focusing on otherwise unseen experiences."

Touch Base... Indoors
The first day of the New York Travel Festival is Saturday, April 20, and takes place at Bohemian National Hall on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There, attention will be directed to "an array of speakers, panelists, tastings, and other experiences."

Not unlike a big-tent circus, there will be three rings in. The main stage will host the travel luminaries, as well as contests, debates and more. The morning keynote will be delivered by Andrew Evans, National Geographic's Digital Nomad, paving the way for words of wisdom from travel writers like Matt Gross, David Farley and Jason Cochran, travel media leaders from Travel+Leisure, AFAR Media, the Matador Network, Skift and Gadling, and travel personalities like Valarie D'Elia (of Travel with Val) and Robert Reid (of Lonely Planet).

On a smaller stage, the Niche Breakout space allows for topic-specific discussions for people passionate about responsible and sustainable travel, beer travel, food in NYC, solo travel for women and gay travel.

In parallel with this, there is a Local/Regional Breakout space devoted to New York City and vicinity, where more panels and presentations will bring to life the hidden treats of the NYC metropolitan area. Associated with this is Taste of the Hudson Valley, an incredible showcase of entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and experts offering culinary, cultural and outside attractions.

Keep It Local... Outside
On Sunday, April 21, everyone heads into the streets to come to firsthand grips with what makes NYC tick. In line with a passion for going local, throughout the day 11 tours touch base in all five boroughs and help festivalgoers get under the hood of different parts of the city.

For foodies, there's a pizza experience, a peek behind the curtain of NYC's alcoholic drink industries, discovery of Williamsburg's Moore Street Market, a trawl along Brooklyn's Smith and Court streets' restaurant scene or and a sampling of Queens' ethnic neighborhoods.

Urbanscapes buffs won't want to miss a trip to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Manhattan's Highline Park or the great sights of the Bronx, including Yankee Stadium. And for something entirely different, 'unforget' Staten Island or discover the busking scene of the NYC underground.

After all, a travel festival in New York City should have something to do with New York City, right? Visitors will see a side of town that many don't take time for; New Yorkers will find themselves marveling at stuff they never knew was right under their noses.

"We find that younger travelers are consistently concerned with the 'authenticity' of the experience, something that local travel is implicitly attached to," shared Weiss.

Dynamic Is Good
If you've been to other travel shows, you know what they're like. But don't expect that. Don't expect what Weiss describes as "character-less convention centers [where] you find circuit speakers doing a talk that doesn't recognize any difference in the calendar."

Instead, "By focusing on varied, dynamic content and simply by virtue of this being our inaugural event, we're providing something novel for the travel consumer."

The New York Travel Festival takes place April 20-21, 2013.