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!