ITB Berlin: The big interview

ITB Berlin debuted in 1966 as the first fair of its kind, with nine exhibitors from five countries showing their products to 250 visitors. This year some 11,000 exhibitors from 180 countries are expected to fill Europe’s largest conference halls that constitute the ICC Berlin. The European exhibition has become the forerunner of the entire tourism sector and is set to launch into Asia next year.

David Ruetz, Senior Project Manager ITB Berlin tells Breaking Travel News about the 41 year history of ITB Berlin and offers some handy tips on getting around the mammoth event.


BTN: What are your estimations for numbers of exhibitors and visitors present at this year’s ITB? How does this compare to last year?

Ruetz: Last year 94,553 trade visitors and 68,270 members of the general public visited the ITB Berlin, and the ITB Convention counted 7,000 participants. We expect about the same number of visitors. 10,856 tourism companies exhibited at ITB Berlin 2006. A total of just under 11,000 exhibiting companies from some 180 countries and territories are expected between 7 and 11 March at the ITB Berlin 2007.

BTN:  Which new companies have signed up this year?
Ruetz: After an absence of several years Colombia (Hall 3.1) returns to the ITB Berlin 2007, as do a number of African countries, namely Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger and Benin (all in Hall 20). Lebanon has a much stronger presence at the fair with a two-storey stand that is twice the size of last year’s display, as part of a campaign to revitalise its tourism industry (Hall 22).

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The growth of the ITB Berlin is most apparent in new and innovative sectors such as ITB Supply, ITB Holiday Real Estate and the Culture Palace, the section devoted to the Book World and cultural tourism. Wellness, Holiday Homes, a bigger Cruises section and a larger adventure travel hall are some new features.

BTN:  Messe Berlin is launching ITB in Singapore in 2008. Why is an ITB Asia needed and what gaps will it fill?
Ruetz: In the medium- and long term the Asian market in particular is set to become one of the most important source markets for worldwide tourism. That is the reason why ITB Asia is of great importance to us. It will strengthen ITB Berlin as does already our engagement in Orlando/USA.

BTN:  ITB is entering its 41st year in 2007. How many exhibitors attended the first ever ITB?
Ruetz: In the fair’s debut in 1966 it formed part of an exhibition for overseas imports. Nine exhibitors from five countries, Egypt, Brazil, the Federal Republic of Germany, Guinea and Iraq, displayed their products and services to 250 trade visitors over an area of 580 square metres at the exhibition grounds. The Congress Hall in Berlin-Tiergarten hosted a seminar also attended by 24 Central and West African countries which debated “New holiday destinations on new continents”. It was the first travel fair of its kind.

BTN: How has the travel market evolved over the years?
Ruetz: A sudden rise in holiday choices for the consumer and fast growth in the number of companies and organisations making up the tourism sector in the sixties made sure that ITB Berlin became a success. The ITB Berlin anticipates new market trends and is always putting new ideas into practice.

The fair mirrors society trends and economic developments. During the eighties criticisms surfaced questioning the problematic aspects of tourism, leading to new and alternative forms of tourism. Whether it was gentle forms of travel or nineties health tourism, later on wellness, the ITB Berlin gave them all a platform and helped them gain shape. By 1985 business travel had already become an important theme at the ITB Berlin.
The introduction of new technologies has always been at the forefront. Since 2000 products by exhibitors in the Travel Technology segment have been mirroring technological progress. A growing internet travel market has sparked radical changes in this field.

BTN:  The European market is full of exhibitions with big players such as WTM and FITUR who share a huge proportion of the market. Is there room for any more competition?
Ruetz: No. WTM, Fitur and ITB are key players in the market and they will develop accordingly.


BTN: What are some of the key issues and trends in the travel industry this year?  How has this been reflected at ITB?
Ruetz: UNWTO statistics show that the industry is facing consistent growth. Four trends are especially important in this development: today’s travellers are time poor and money rich. Tour operators’ offers are thus expected to meet these criteria. The gap between luxury travel and bargain offers is intensifying, the medium is far less attractive. Tourists forget terror attacks faster than expected, yet they often have several destinations in mind when planning and seem to move to other alternatives almost unconsciously. Customers are becoming increasingly independent in their booking behaviour. Thus they prefer the possibility of modular, flexible online booking over all-inclusive offers. 

BTN: You are including a sector for holiday real estate, which is quite an unusual for travel trade exhibitions. Why did you decide to add this sector and what has been the industry response?
Ruetz: The market for holiday real estate is becoming increasingly important. Around three-quarters of all foreign properties owned by German households are in Europe. Real estate in Spain leads the rankings at 17 per cent, followed by Italy (10 per cent), and France (7 per cent). This trend highlights the increasing importance of the holiday real estate market abroad. For this reason the ITB Berlin has recognised a need to meet this market trend for holiday real estate and second homes.

BTN: What will be some of the highlights of this year’s ITB?
Ruetz: ITB Berlin successfully monitores and showcases trends in tourism. At this year’s ITB, the Travel Technology section at is due to be an even more comprehensive and international event. Attended by over 120 exhibitors, this meeting place of international travel technology experts will once again be exhibiting travel technology products. With [email protected] we offer the world’s only combined trade event and professional conference that presents, analyzes and discusses local and international travel technology solutions. Under the guidance of the team from PhoCusWright, USA, participants are given insights into the current situation and can learn how innovative technologies will revolutionize the travel industry of the future.


BTN:  In what ways is ITB tackling rising environmental concerns within the tourism sector?
Ruetz: The worldwide travel industry is facing new challenges: in the medium and long term climate change will cause people to alter their travel behaviour. The subject of “Climate change - a fundamental challenge for the global tourism sector” will be one of the highlights of the ITB Future Day on 7 March 2007.


BTN: What is the best way to make the most of a visit to ITB?
Ruetz: The best way is a good preparation. I recommend the ITB Virtual Market Place. It is a comprehensive online catalogue available to both exhibitors and interested members of the public. By clicking on www.itb-berlin.com internet users can find out about products and services from any exhibitor and can contact them directly for appointments. A virtual Route Planner lets you organise your own personal tour of the trade fair online.

BTN: What measures have been taken to facilitate easier access around the exhibition grounds?
Ruetz: There are a number of new services this year, such as a helicopter-shuttle to the fairground and fastlanes for those visitors who registered in advance online.


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