ITB Berlin – The Largest Trade Show in the World

Berlin skyline

I recently got back from my annual pilgrimage to ITB Berlin, the largest and most important event in the global travel industry. Actually, its numbers make it the most important trade fair of any industry in the world and one that turns over $7.5 billion in just five days.

According to my iPhone, I averaged 30,000 steps a day as I rushed from meeting to meeting around the most confusing 160,000 square meters of exhibition space to be found anywhere. I mean, seriously, who would design 26 exhibition halls on three different levels, spread them out even more by arranging them around a large park, and use a numbering system that I could describe as random, capricious or plain perverse? Just when I had worked out where everything was (after 15 years), this year, someone thought it would be amusing to swap South America and Gulf States around to make sure we kept alert.

Each day, I lost two pounds at the show (there was no time for eating, even if there had been anything edible hidden among the hot dogs), and each evening I put on a new two pounds thanks to the German beer and the finger food served at countless after-show events.

So, what did I learn from this year’s trip to Berlin with 220,000 other pilgrims?

1. The industry is alive and well. The place was packed, everyone who is anyone in the industry was there, business was done, and in Germany, they actually show up to appointments. Other trade shows have been struggling in the last few years to fill their halls, and at many of them, I have noticed a sudden proliferation of “meeting points,” also known as “unsold exhibition space,” with a few armchairs. Not at ITB.

2. I was quite surprised to see that there seemed to be less excitement around virtual reality than there was this time last year. Quite a few stands still used VR as a way to showcase products or destinations, but this had certainly lost the novelty factor and was a discrete part of the stand rather than the centerpiece.

3. There is a definite trend towards less spectacular but more functional stand designs.

4. There is also a trend towards regional grouping of international DMOs to share costs and concentrate marketing efforts. This is the case in the Caribbean, East Africa, Mekong, Scandinavia and other regions.

5. If you can find time to escape the exhibition halls, ITB’s conference program gets better every year. It is worth listening in on the presentation of the World Travel Trends Report and picking up a copy published by research firm IPK International for ITB.

6. Lastly and quite unexpectedly, I learned that if you are working for the ground handling union and you want to get a 50-cent-a-day pay raise, there is no better time to cause strike havoc at an airport than during the world’s largest international trade fair.