With attendance figures for travel trade shows and events returning to pre-pandemic levels and in many cases even higher, there’s every indication from across the industry that this coming ITB Berlin (7th to 9th March) is likely to be exceptionally busy – something that could provoke more than a few challenges that require advance planning to overcome if you want to make the most of your valuable time.
Offering advice for first-time attendees, of which it seems there will be more than usual, Alex Barros, chief innovation and marketing officer from revenue manager BEONx, who has experience of several ITB events advises: “I can’t stress enough just how incredibly overwhelming and confusing the whole thing is compared to other smaller trade shows, and this year will be worse than ever. Military planning is key – you won’t be doing any of the ‘oh we´ll just work out somewhere to meet’ or ‘bump into each other during lunch’. Without proper organisation you´ll be going home without having seen so much as one person.”
Also providing some insight for travel tech attendees keen to make the most of the event, Emilie Dumont from Digitrips, a B2B travel tech provider that also owns France’s Misterfly OTA (who is speaking on stage this year) adds: “For travel tech professionals the main place to hang out is the travel tech halls of 5.1,6.1, 7.1c and 8.1, but keep in mind that this is only where the actual tech companies are, so if you want to target say Destination Management Companies (DMCs) or tourism boards or hotels, well you´ll find them all in separate places. Wear comfortable shoes is all I´m saying!”
Paul Batchelor, business development commercial lead from payments specialist Nium – who is also speaking at ITB this year – agrees that footwear and planning is key to success. “The venue is absolutely enormous and takes a little time to adjust to. Even if it were empty, it could still take more than 10 minutes to walk across. With the sheer number of people, staggered floors and hall numbering, it can be extremely confusing and disorientating. My suggestion would be to plan your exact route of where you need to get to for every meeting as soon as you arrive, and give yourself at least 10-20 minutes leeway between meetings, especially if you need to get to the opposite end of the building.”
With food in mind, Kevin King, chief operating officer from hospitality technology giant, Shiji Group – who is giving the opening speech in the Hospitality Tech Forum – shares: “Unless you’re one of the packed-lunch brigade you´ll want to grab something to eat, and I suggest you take a Hunger Games approach to eating: if you see food available or are given it then you must eat it immediately, regardless of whether you are hungry or not. Despite there being many small food stands everywhere, the queues often seem interminable and often you can get to the front only to be told ‘we’ve run out of everything’. Take cash too, as none of the stands accept card payments. None. And there are only two cash machines in the whole building.”
Finding space for meetings is a challenge that many find at any trade show, but ITB Berlin is particularly known for its huge spaces, large crowds, and challenges to get from one meeting to the next. “Plan your days very carefully so you have a designated ‘route’ and don’t end up needing to go from Hall 3 to Hall 9 for back-to-back meetings. As it could take you almost half an hour and you’ll be running late for every meeting,” advises Bruce Rosard from Arival, the in-destination event which takes place this year immediately before ITB in Berlin.
“Unless you’re meeting at someone’s exhibit, space is at a premium and there aren’t many, indeed really any, public spaces that you can use for meetings – certainly if you want to sit down. And don’t count on restaurant spaces for this, as it is mostly food stalls and they have only a few tables, if any, nearby. So book your meetings early, plan your route, and bring your running shoes to get the most out of ITB,” adds Rosard.
Meanwhile Morgann Lesne from investment bank Cambon Partners – known as ‘The Travel Banker’ by many – offers advice for attendees who are thinking of selling their company or raising finance for growth this year and hope to use the show as a chance to make that happen: “For sure this year is going to be one of the biggest M&A years for the travel sector ever. Covid put a lot of plans on hold but has also pushed a lot of companies into changing their models and therefore requiring them to acquire companies, raise finance or just plain sell-up. Potential acquirers and investors are indeed descending on ITB Berlin this year in greater numbers than ever before. Where can you meet them? How do you identify them? Making your company visible is the key here – if you can demonstrate your leadership and strength then they´ll find you. For example, speaking on one of the panels would be a good start. Investors take a close look at who is speaking for sure.”
Also reflecting on the evening plans, Eric Zhuang, chief strategy officer from accommodation wholesaler, DidaTravel, an ITB exhibitor this year, adds: “When it comes to leaving the venue as it closes, allow yourself a lot of time to not only leave the building but to actually transport yourself to wherever it is you’re going next. Whatever time you planned, triple it. Traditional taxis are impossible to get: you could be moving forward in the line for one for 30 minutes, but then actually realise that few taxis have actually turned up – the queue sometimes only moves because people exit it in frustration. Ubers will most likely never find you or cancel, but are worth a try. There’s a train station opposite but you need to wait for several trains to pass through before you can even get into the station.”
Roman Townsend, managing director of travel tech PR consultancy, Belvera Partners, talks about the social importance of this year’s ITB Berlin: “If this were a high school reunion it would have a zero in it for sure, perhaps the 10th before everyone has babies and so can still attend. That’s how busy I´m expecting it to be this year – my team’s diaries are already nearly full. And just like a high school reunion there are more than a few special people you are hoping to bump into, and this really could be your lucky day if you play your cards right. Just practice your ‘oh I didn’t expect to see you here but it’s lovely to see you again, if I remember rightly your name is…’ face in the mirror before going and think hard about where you´ll hang out – I´ll be in the travel technology halls of 5.1,6.1, 7.1c and 8.1.”
Finally, Alice Ferrari from aviation technology provider Kyte – who is speaking on the e-Travel stage during the show – reflects on the upside to all these challenges: “Of course, such high attendance this year and the potential frustrations of too many people in a space never intended for such crowds is a big problem in many respects. It makes it even more important to attend than ever before though, so for me it’s a priority to be there and I recommend downloading the ITB App to start your networking and planning. Most people really are using it and responding, so miss it at your peril.”