ITB Berlin 2021: the virtual travel trade show

From 9th to 12th March, the ITB travel trade show went fully virtual for the first time ever. It seems insane to hold a travel trade fair exclusively online, but such is life mid-pandemic. I had attended the ITB in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and was eager to see how the 2021 experience compared.

When I attended in 2018, I recall paying around €60 for the attendee ticket to the ITB. So I was quite surprised to see the price had risen to €99. But on balance, I was happy to pay as a) I no longer needed to pay for flights and accommodation, saving me quite a lot of money and b) the event had been cancelled last year, so a price rise was almost inevitable.

So how did it compare? Well, being a German to English freelance translator working in the field of tourism, trying to book appointments to chat to potential clients had been extremely difficult when I attended in 2016-2018. Most of the people I contacted before the event knew just how hectic it was going to be, and finding a translator was not on their list of priorities for the trade show. So most of them either declined or ignored my requests. This year, however, things were different: The people I contacted were much more willing to chat, book meetings with me and respond to my messages. Will these meetings and messages will turn into work? Only time will tell.

I know how ironic it is to hold a travel trade show virtually, but I have to say I liked the online format. Yes, there were technical difficulties, but that’s to be expected… and the IT technicians fixed the issues pretty quickly. It was nice not to be stomping around the 26 halls that span a 160,000 m2 area in smart outfits and shoes that are not nearly as comfortable as the ones I wear working from home. I can remember just how tired I would be every evening at the ITB, and just how much my feet would hurt, even though I wouldn’t even visit every hall at the trade show.

And even though I got my usual ITB-information-overload-headache this year, last week’s event seemed a lot more chilled out. Maybe that’s because I didn’t have to dash from one conference room to another to watch talks, maybe it’s because I wasn’t chatting to the people manning the stands face-to-face, attempting to hone my pitch and repeatedly hearing responses such as: “We’ve already got a team of translators”, “We don’t use translators” or just flat-out “no”. That alone can be a draining experience!

There was once again a wide variety of talks this year. I liked how they were split into half-day tracks, with themes such as LGBTQ+ travel, sustainable travel and wellness. And I also liked how comments and questions could still be posed in a chat box, keeping information to the essential and eliminating any potential long monologues from eager audience members at the end of the talks. Having said this, most of the talks were just 15-30 minutes long, and while I prefer shorter talks, it made it difficult for the speakers to get to questions. Some were answered (sometimes in the chat box), some weren’t.

To make life easier, all the talks were also recorded. They will be uploaded by the end of this week and remain available until the end of May. I’m looking forward to rewatching some of the talks and seeing some of the talks I missed due to clashes.

Having said all this, there are many things I miss about attending in person. All the networking events and after-parties, for one. Yes, there were chat rooms at the online event. But you needed to be let into some of them and, if I’ve understood correctly, you sometimes wouldn’t get in without an appointment. I also missed seeing the latest inventions at the tech stands, such as Mario the robot who works at Marriott. Last but by no means least, Berlin is one of my favourite cities in the world, I always jump at the chance to visit. So I was really sad not to be able to this time around… but I’ll definitely be back in the near future!

All in all, ITB 2021 was a success. It will be interesting to see how the trade show proceeds in future, especially after this pandemic is finally over and the tourism sector begins to recover. I, for one, cannot wait!

What were your thoughts on this year’s ITB? Did you go? Did you decide to wait until next year? Let me know in the comments!

My insights into the ITB travel show: day 1

This is my first year of attending the ITB, the world’s largest tourism convention, in Berlin. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, despite having done plenty of research and reached out to many exhibitors prior to my arrival. Here are my insights into day one.

I arrived at 10am and decided to spend most of the day listening to presentations. The schedule for the day was fascinating and ranged from talks on how the refugee crisis affects tourism to what virtual reality has in store to the ins and outs of being a digital nomad. As talks took place simultaneously in various parts of the exhibition centre, it was sometimes quite difficult to choose which talk to attend, but I managed to pick a multitude of aspects relating to the tourism world.

I started off in the MICE Day talk on digital transformation. Before the speaker, Prof. Wolfgang Henseler, graced the stage, there was a short talk by Bernd Fritzges and a robot who entertained the audience with the Gangnam style dance – very entertaining. Prof. Henseler’s talk was less to do with travel and tourism and more to do with innovative technology in everyday life and how it changes the way we think. He focused in on Amazon’s latest innovations, including Echo, the Dash button and Dash Replenishment Services. The latter involves products, such as water filters, reordering themselves as required. I don’t know about you, but I find that idea a little creepy!

I then sat in one of the most interesting talks of the day: Old Europe, New Borders? Coming and Going, Travel & Staying at Home: Tourism & Refugees. The four speakers on this panel tackled issues relating to terrorism and refugees, i.e. the fact that people shouldn’t stop travelling to a destination where a terrorist attack has occurred. One speaker quite rightly pointed out that if we stop visiting countries affected by terrorism then their economy will suffer, so the locals are hit twice as hard. The notion of safety was also discussed: is anywhere in the world actually 100% safe?

The next talk I attended was by Microsoft on digital disruption. It made me wonder whether digital disruption is actually as negative as it sounds. The speaker gave me the impression that if companies keep up with the latest trends and be proactive, rather than reactive, then digital disruption becomes more of a way to promote innovation than a mechanism to destroy existing businesses.

After lunch (which consisted of a very expensive prawn cocktail), I sat in on a talk on pricing in the tourism industry. Did you know that a frequent flyer is more likely to be offered an expensive flight than somebody not on the airline’s loyalty programme? (At least according to the speaker, Dr Mark Friesen.) The gist of the talk boiled down to the fact that airlines and hotels know a lot more about us than you would think and there is a trend towards pricing flights/hotel stays individually based on a customer’s past behaviour and preferences rather than on current availability. So if you have a favourite airline and book directly with them every time, you may not actually be getting the best available price. Dr Friesen also discussed concerns, such as price fairness and the legal implications of this.

The last talk of the day for me, before I wondered around some of the stands (including the truck giving out free ice cream), was by two “digital nomads”, i.e. people who travel and work. One of them was Sarah Lorenz, whose blog I follow on my Translator Travels twitter account. It was a really interesting talk as I have been seriously considering incorporating travel into my business model and working abroad while travelling. It was great to get a realistic picture of what that would actually be like!

After this, I went for a stroll around the stands. I was a little bit reluctant to do this, as when I attended the WTM in November, it was quite clear that the exhibitors either a) had no idea about how translation is managed in their company and/or b) were there to attract business rather than acquire services, so trying to strike up conversation was painful at times. I did, however, manage to chat to a few people this time around without feeling like I was getting on their nerves or wasting their time. Hopefully that’s a sign of progress and the following days will be even better!

I am also going to be at the ITB tomorrow and Friday. Feel free to follow me on Twitter for live updates. If you’re going to the ITB and would like to set up a meeting, get in touch!

Read about day two here.

Read about day three here.