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 3

Read about day one here.

Read about day two here.

On day three I mainly focused on meeting fellow attendees and networking, but I did attend a few talks:

The first was a fascinating talk on the future of luxury tourism. The panel included a cruise analyst who focused on high-end luxury cruises and shunned “mainstream” cruises and a businessman from South Africa who insisted you could create luxury from nothing by taking people out into nature, keeping things simple and getting back to basics. It was debated whether companies like Secret Escapes are even luxury if they have such low price tags. The panel generally seemed to agree that the word “luxury” is abused in the travel industry.

I then attended a talk on blogging and how DMOs work with bloggers. The general gist was that bloggers do get paid, but the expectation is then that the content is owned by the DMO and they can do with it as they please. The DMOs on the panel stressed that bloggers need a large organic following for this to work as the benefit of collaborating with bloggers over any other marketing expert is that a blogger will create exposure and distribute their content, which isn’t always a given with other marketing professionals.

My last talk of the day was on the sharing economy. Are companies such as Airbnb really dominating the industry? “No” was the response from Wouter Geerts at Euromonitor, who had analysed the market and was presenting his research. He suggested three ways to counter the sharing economy:

  • Hotels have done a great deal of lobbying against Airbnb and even seen success in New York and Barcelona.
  • Marriott have created a lower-end brand called Moxy. These hotels feature tiny bedrooms but their lobbies are designed in such a way that encourages socialising.
  • Hyatt has teamed up with Onefinestay (a company similar to Airbnb offering high-end accommodation) and Wyndham with Love Home Swap (a home-swapping service) in an effort to get in on the sharing-economy action.

He also presented other examples of the sharing economy in travel, such as the company that rents out your car while you go on holiday. You save on airport parking and make a commission on the rental. The company also cleans your car before returning it to you. Personally, I would be a little worried about renting my car out to any old Joe Bloggs, but each to their own!

The benefits of hiring a translator to translate your travel or tourism text

The Internet is peppered with statistics on the boom in tourism in recent years. For example, UNWTO has stated that worldwide destinations received 21 million more tourists between January and June 2015 in comparison with the same period of 2014 with Germany being the second most popular European travel destination after Spain. This means increasing numbers of people from all over the world using tourism services in every corner of the Earth. Needless to say, this scenario requires multi-lingual communication and what better way to speak to people than in their own language!

This is where translation comes in. As a translator myself, I sometimes find that translation by a qualified translator is omitted from the budgets of internationally focused companies. This may be because they didn’t consider it in the first place or they don’t value the difference in quality between a translation produced by a professional or by an amateur (or even a machine). So why should you hire a professional when there are so many other options out there? This article will discuss a few of the benefits.

First and foremost, your translator will have extensive knowledge of all of their mastered languages and the countries’ cultures. As is often the case with tourism, cultural elements will crop up in texts that may be unknown to your target audience. Translators will know precisely how to word the new text to incorporate this unknown entity seamlessly into the translation. Let’s take the term Feuerzangenbowle, a Christmas tradition that can be seen at German Christmas markets, as an example. It refers to an alcoholic beverage made by placing an alcohol-soaked sugarloaf onto a bowl of mulled wine and setting said sugarloaf alight so that it melts and mixes into the drink. But how do you translate this for an audience who are unfamiliar with the term, particularly if the writer refers to this concept in passing and it’s not the major focus of the text? Amateurs may not know how to deal with these instances of unfamiliarity. So one of the benefits of hiring a translator is that the qualified translator can add value by helping the reader to understand the foreign concept.

The next argument I would like to put forward is that you are entrusting the person who writes your foreign-language content with your brand. If this person does not have the appropriate language skill level or knowledge of the topic that they are translating, the resulting document could be poorly written or even misleading. This is sure to have a negative impact on your company’s image. Not only is it worth hiring a professional with experience, it is also worth giving them information about your company, what you represent, how you market yourself and what you hope to accomplish with your text. This way, your brand will be correctly represented to your potential foreign customers.

I should also mention that well-known machine called Google Translate. I have to admit, it could come in handy when travelling in a far-flung country where you don’t speak the local language and they don’t speak yours. However, when it comes to translating your written content, how will you assess the quality of the text if you do not speak the language in which your translated content is being generated? How can you be sure that it is representing your brand well and creating a desirable image of your company? Working with a human translator means that you can contact them to ask questions about the translated text and make adjustments if needed. You cannot ask a machine why it translated X as Y. Of course you can tweak and edit a machine-translated text, but will the text be as good as a text translated by a professional translator from scratch? Personally, I don’t think it would. The benefits of hiring a professional here are diverse: quality, communication and collaboration are just three of the advantages of working with translators.

It was also recently revealed that Google deems content translated by Google Translate to be “automatically generated” content, which bumps it down in the list of search rankings. Google’s SEO rules prioritise original content with the right keywords to ensure that their rankings are relevant. According to Brightlines, the e-tourism sector in France loses €120 million every year as a result of this. On request, translators can do keyword research to ensure that your writing is ranked as high as possible on Google. In other words, automatically generated material is not acceptable for clients publishing content on the Web. Investing in translation should certainly be appealing if you publish online content.

My final argument is this: even if you are highly skilled in your non-native language, translating perfectly worded written material will take you a long time. Especially if you plan to craft it so that it doesn’t read like a translation. This time could be better spent elsewhere in your business, while you leave translation to the trained professionals. In any business, it is worth outsourcing extra tasks, e.g. translation (and in my case: accounting, marketing), to professionals, as any fan of the SWOT analysis will tell you.

So why should you hire a qualified translator to translate your tourism text? Because they will craft the text into a beautifully worded piece, taking into consideration any cultural aspects unknown to the target readers. They will put in a great deal of research, even for the simplest of texts. They will make the translated text flow so that you are unable to tell that it is a translation. If any (or some, or all) of these factors are important to you, I urge you to hire a professional translator to render your texts in your chosen foreign languages.