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The halls of one of the world’s most well-known travel trade events, London’s World Travel Market, are filled this week with nearly 48,000 travel industry professionals, government ministers, bloggers, and reporters who are focused on driving visitors and tourism dollars to their own countries or cities.
But as one of the largest industries in the world, travel has both a positive impact and a dark underside. And those unpleasant truths are seeping into the polished booths and buffet tables visited by WTM attendees this year, both online and in person.
According to Twitter, the owner of the hotel group Qasim Ibrahim allegedly funded a coup that led to the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed in February 2012. Users on Twitter portray the Villa Hotels group as supporting the current regime.
Tweets with photos of police brutality are being shown in between tweets with photos of tourism booths. Their differences could not be more obvious.
— Pray4NeymarJr (@Fenthashi) November 5, 2013
— World Travel Market (@WTM_London) November 5, 2013
— Ibrahim Shoppe – D15 (@ibrahimshoppe) November 5, 2013
— claudiabia (@claudiabia) November 5, 2013
— pirate mohamed (@piratemohd) November 5, 2013
According to the people tweeting at me for the past 24 hours, there is no formal group organizing the hashtag hijack. There’s “just normal people fed up with [Qasim’s] greed” and “people finally standing up for themselves.”
This isn’t the first time social media activists from the Maldives have turned a hashtag into an opportunity. In June of 2012 the Maldives tourism authority tried to promote #sunnysideoflife to equally disastrous results.
World Travel Market distanced itself from the protest tweeters on Tuesday, but the tweets haven’t stopped coming in.
We would like to apologise to our followers for the misuse of our hashtag by other accounts. We are no way linked to these tweets.
— World Travel Market (@WTM_London) November 4, 2013
The situation is somewhat ironic since at least 10 presentations and workshops at the event will focus how travel marketers and companies can use social media to attract and engage customers.
On Tuesday, the World Travel Market was also targeted by protesters in person. Free Tibet protestors targeted the event’s ExCel exhibition center into London as part of a worldwide demonstration against InterContinental Hotels Group’s plan to open a luxury hotel in Tibet’s capital.
The protests that were scheduled to coincide with IHG’s Q3 results today also interrupted the large trade event with demonstrators hanging a large banner, blocking a stairway, and chanting a single message. The protestors were physically removed from the nearby InterContinental Westminster after about 10 minutes.