Many people travel the world to see monuments, landscapes, and attend festivals; while others hit the road to dress up as Klingons, learn how to reverse engineer ATM machines, or reenact scenes from Lord Of The Rings. I recently attended the 2011 Las Vegas Star Trek Convention with nearly 10,000 other people; and more than 2.2 million people attend science-fiction conventions each year. That’s not where geek gatherings begin or end however and these are a few of the top events that see many more people than you may have ever imagined.
Star Trek Conventions
We’ll start here as it’s a topic I’ve introduced you to before but one surprising trend is their growing popularity. There are now over 100 Star Trek conventions every year around the world in countries like Brazil, Serbia, and Australia. In others, like Germany, it has taken off to the extent that there are now monthly Trek meetups and dinners in practically every city. The first Star Trek convention took place on March 1, 1969 in Newark, New Jersey and was arguably the beginning of the sci-fi convention phenomena.
- Where The Biggest Star Trek Conventions Are: Las Vegas: Creation Star Trek Las Vegas, Dusseldorf: FedCon, Melbourne: OzTrek
I’ve been to my fair share of hacker conventions as well which are something of a visual cross between corporate conference, the movie Hackers, and an acid trip. The larger events usually have some set of experts talking tech security, but often the discussions branch out into other related topics like lock picking and reprogramming ATM machines. Speaking of, you usually don’t want to use one within a 2 kilometers of the convention and it’s not the best place to try and get online. Don’t worry though, most of the presentations themselves are hacked by the audience as they’re being presented.
Also known as “Ren Fairs” these semi-reenactments of the Europe’s 1500-1750 time period feature ancient booze like “mead”, bow and arrow contests, and plenty of ladies dressed as though they belong in Oktoberfest. Although Ren Fairs got their start in the United States, they can be found all across Europe, Australia, and parts of Canada. Ren Fairs are incredibly popular and draw nearly 2 million people each year in the US alone.
- Where The Biggest Ren Fairs Are: Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, Maryland Renaissance Festival, Texas Renaissance Festival
Convention (“Con”) fanaticism may have begun with Star Trek, but it was quickly met on the other end of the spectrum by Anime. That world of anime – revolving around Japanese animation – has a huge cult following all over the world if this list of conventions is any indication. Of the sci-fi conventions I’d have to say anime cons are the most colorful and usually have more people dressed up than not.
Board Game, Video Game, And Collectable Conventions
This is where Germany really shines in terms of its convention culture and considered the place to visit if you’re all about board games. In this digital age the Internationale Spieltage SPIEL sees more than 150,000 people over 4 days each year in Essen, Germany. In fact, gaming conventions are considered the fastest growing genre, particularly in eastern Europe. Though it’s the Italians who’ve got the biggest gaming convention anywhere – with 140,000 attendees (not including vendors) visiting for Lucca Comic And Games in…well, Lucca, Italy. Video and board game manufacturers often announce their upcoming games at these larger events, making them sort of the Macworld for game geeks.
- Where The Biggest Gaming Conventions Are: Essen: Internationale Spieltage SPIEL, Indianapolis: Game Con, Toronto: GX Gaming Expo
There are conventions and then there is Comic-Con, perhaps the most well known comic, science-fiction, fantasy gathering held in San Diego each year. While there are many “Comic Cons” held around the world annually, San Diego has blossomed from 145 people in 1970 when it began, to over 125,000 this past year. Actors from upcoming films and current TV shows like Dexter, Chuck and Big Bang Theory have panels to discuss what’s coming up in the seasons ahead. It’s worth noting while Comic-Con is arguably the most publicized, it’s not the biggest. Comiket in Tokyo, Japan sees 500,000…twice a year.
- Where The Biggest Comic Conventions Are: Angouleme [France]: Angouleme International Comics Festival, Johannesburg: ICON, Atlanta: Dragon*Con
How Conventions Help Local Travel
While every trip of ours may hold a variety of purposes, conventions have an impact that any local economy can appreciate – money. Entry fees, hotel reservations, and dining associated with Dragon*Con alone was estimated to bring in 25 million dollars to Atlanta’s economy. Comic Con (San Diego) generated around 163 million dollars this past year and that trend is seen in convention cities around the world. Although on the surface nerd-travel might look different, underneath the costumes that travel mechanics are much the same.
People getting together with others who share their passions, while at the same time perhaps venturing to a new city or country and adding those experiences to their own. Many of my own 2012 upcoming stops revolve around sci-fi conventions though my travels will revolve around the cities and areas their held in.
[Anime photo by VideogameVisionary.com]