I do not like walking. The idea of walking long distances appalls me. I like to say it is because I have very puny long stick like legs. My legs are so thin and unimpressive that even my good friends at university used to remark that I seemed to have “no visible means of support”! In reality I do not like walking because I am lazy. Being lazy and not liking walking are not ideal traits for visiting ITB Berlin – as I discovered.
At my first ITB Travel Exhibition and Conference in Berlin I walked more each day than in any day of my 53 years to date. People had warned me that ITB was the largest travel exhibition in the world, but not really given me a perspective on how absolutely huge and spread out it is. It spans many halls and has a huge geographic footprint. It is an expedition in its own right.
It is exhausting. It is inspiring. It is packed. It is impressive. It is unrelenting and full on. It is also the best way to see everything that exists in travel in the world, even though by the end of each day you feel that you have actually walked the world to see them. There is a buzz and feeling of discovery all around you. The noise and chatter all around is excited, with an atmosphere like it is the last day of term at school or the run up to Christmas. There is a vibe, a passion and genuine thrill of adventure all around the exhibition.
ITB Berlin has been going for decades and has become an essential platform for every form of travel to present and sell itself. It is hard to see how it can get any bigger, as it looks like every destination, airline, cruise company, tour operator and hotel chain is here already. It is at a size where you can only really make the most of it if you come with a clear objective of what you want to see and do. As the halls and areas are divided by topic or geography, it aids and enables this approach.
Most of the days at ITB are only open to Travel Trade Customers along with journalists and travel bloggers. Unlike WTM (World Travel Market) held in London in November each year, they do open the doors to the public on the closing weekend.
Should you go to ITB Berlin?
If you are in the travel business I think you must. Everyone is here and so you can see trends, meet people and make contacts. You need to be focused on one objective though, or you will just get swamped and swallowed up by the immensity of it all. If you try and do more than one focused thing you will fail and will find the event frustrating, and tiring. There is a large conference program that runs alongside the exhibition with travel leaders talking and taking part in discussion panels. This is also done on a huge scale with different threads. This too requires advance planning.
If you are a travel blogger, than this is becoming a really key event. They have specific blogger accreditation and many talks, events and functions (like Speed Dating in partnership with TBEX to connect bloggers with brands wanting to work with them). It is a networking and contact must do.
If you live in the Berlin area and love travel, then attend the public days. But you do need to focus on what you are interested in or considering doing on a future vacation. For example, if you are thinking of going to Southern Africa then plan to just go to that hall and spend time with each of the stands and the many providers within them. You will then achieve a lot and come away with a concrete sense of what your vacation could be.
Will I go back?
My legs say “please no”. My head and heart both say “damn right yes”. By attending you learn a lot, meet a lot of people and feel the passion the travel industry has. By not attending I will feel I am missing out on something, and worry I will miss something important.
My top 10 tips on attending ITB Berlin:
- Book well in advance. The city is full and hotels get busy and expensive.
- Stay in a partner hotel as they then have free shuttle buses, which can save a lot in taxis and working out the public transport options.
- Set a clear objective (or maybe 2) of what you want to achieve and focus on that. There are so many people and so much to do, you need to focus.
- Pace yourself. It is big, busy and hectic. Do not over commit and try to do too much. I kept hearing people talking about how tired they were.
- Use the Virtual Marketplace to set up your profile and to make appointments with people you want to meet. If you do not make appointments you are probably not going to get to talk to people ad hoc on the stand. They will be booked up solid.
- Devour the ITB site and the conference program and plan your event around the talks you want to attend. Meetings you can shuffle about, the talks you cannot.
- Understand the layout of the event. Be careful when booking appointments. You cannot get from Hall 7 to Hall 25 in a few minutes. It could take you 15 to 30 minutes.
- Wear shoes you can walk in. Never wear new shoes.
- Food on site is all “fast food” and expensive for what it is. So are drinks (e.g. Small bottle of water is 3,70 Euros). So eat a good breakfast, and bring drinks and snacks.
- Dress for the occasions. It is a business event and people are dressed in at worst “business casual”.
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