ITB Berlin, one of the two highlights in the industry’s calendar next to the WTM in London, always happens in early March – if it happens.
In the last 30 years, visitors to the ITB Berlin have experienced temperatures during the day up to 18 degrees and minimum temperatures down to -6 degrees Celsius. In 2008 public transport went on strike and international exhibitors were seen walking helplessly in snow and ice in the city centre, hoping in vain to catch a taxi to bring them to the fairground. Two years before, heavy snowfall hindered many of them from reaching Berlin-Tegel airport in the first place.
Nevertheless, very few complaints were heard in 2023 about the mean weather, with a mixture of snow and rain and wind during most of the fair – teaching many the new vocabulary of “graupel” for snowflakes covered with ice (as opposed to sleet, which is snowflakes mixed with rain) while waiting in the taxi queue. The reason? Everybody was happy to meet colleagues and friends from other countries again after the long-time of forced hibernation. Or even for the first time in person after dozens of Zoom encounters. Serendipity, meeting interesting people by chance, is still a powerful source of joy and sometimes a game-changer, which only happens when real people meet in real surroundings.
Such meetings were actually made easier in 2023 compared to the ITB Berlin fairs in 2019 and before by having more space available. The oldest part of the fairground around the Funkturm is still under renovation and even the other halls had wider aisles and more indoor cafes etc. strategically placed to cover up empty grounds. Many exhibitors went with smaller booths or did not show up at all – including China. In total, the 5,500 exhibitors reached only half the number of 2019, whereas the number of professional visitors surpassed 90,000, about ¾ of the 2019 footfall.
For the first time, ITB Berlin lasted only three days and was not open on two additional days for the general public, which is one of the reasons why local and regional exhibitors did not participate this year. Stands accordingly tended to be less flashy with the exception of the GCC countries, which stood out as symbols of wastefulness.
China did not show up with the traditional big, but chaotically organised stand in Hall 26. The opening up of the borders came too late and anyway there would have been no visas available fast enough. A few PR companies represented single provinces in a small way. For a come-together of one province I was the only person showing up midway through the published time, with the person in charge distributing printed brochures from 2019 including advertisements of German tour operators who unfortunately do not exist anymore.
The only appearance of China as a topic in the ITB Berlin Convention took place in the form of a China panel organised by WTCF World Tourism Cities Federation, which included next to Old China Hand Ralf Ostendorf of VisitBerlin representatives of Fliggy, Kazakhstan Tourism and me.
However, unlike the organisers of the ITB Berlin Convention, the major European tourism organisations ETC, the European Travel Commission and ETOA, the European Tourism Association, concentrated in their presentations on China during their press conference on the day before ITB Berlin started. Furthermore, COTRI is proud to announce that a cooperation agreement was signed between ETC and COTRI during the fair.
ITB Berlin 2023 is over and ITB Berlin 2024 will probably enjoy having fully booked halls once again, as well as a better structured ITB Berlin convention.
Next stop: Guangzhou May 19-21. GITF, the Guangzhou International Travel Fair, will represent for the Chinese market what Fitur and ITB Berlin did for the European market: the first chance after several years to meet again with Chinese tour operators and to get back a first-hand experience of the many changes in the Chinese society in the post-pandemic phase. COTRI is not only the organiser of the GITF Conference of May 20, but can also offer a discount to all readers of COTRI WEEKLY for the booking of a booth at the fair.
Flight ticket and hotel prices are back to 2019 levels, and no more quarantine is needed to enter China – just a current negative test. GITF is the best opportunity to re-enter the dialogue with Chinese partners. And – if you are doing something good for the new wave of Chinese visitors already, you might be able to collect at GITF one of the CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome Awards, which will be presented during the fair. More on the CTW Awards, including how to apply, COTRI will be covered in the next edition of COTRI WEEKLY.
It was a pleasure to meet some of you during ITB Berlin last week, and I am looking forward to meeting more of you in ten weeks in Guangzhou!