ITB Berlin: What really happens at the world’s biggest travel show? – CNN International

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Additionally, it’s a chance for the tourism industry to reflect on a changing world and discuss how to embrace it.

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Exotic displays

Importantly, it’s also a chance to strike the deals and make the contacts needed to make sure the world keeps packing its bags and spending the billions that make travel one of the biggest contributors to the global economy.

Sounds like fun, right?

It almost is.

ITB Berlin is a vast five-day gathering of bright and exotic displays that champion far-flung and familiar destinations.

There are dance shows, giveaways, drinks, games, rides and, for the seasoned conference-goer, hundreds of meet-ups with old friends and colleagues.

Lovely, warm, delicious. Shame about lunch.Lovely, warm, delicious. Shame about lunch.

Among the ranks of business suits, there are people in exotic costumes and travel bloggers dressed, lest anyone mistake them for “real” journalists, in kooky clothing.

On the flip side, there’s the grunt work of fruitless sales meetings, hauling mountains of brochures, consuming greasy fast food on the hoof and navigating a bafflingly dense program of seminars, workshops and keynote addresses.

And then there’s the scale of the thing.

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Reduced to tears

Located on the western fringes of Berlin, the Messe convention center is a sprawling campus of two dozen enormous hangars, some split into several levels.

These are filled with pavilions representing various countries and travel-related companies.

Getting from Europe, as represented in hall seven, to Asia, in hall 26, can take longer than it does to actually physically travel from Europe into Asia across the Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge.

What time's that seminar on how to travel to your next seminar?What time's that seminar on how to travel to your next seminar?

Add extra time for anyone reduced to tears by the sight of business expense tool Concur peddling its byzantine software in one of the technology halls.

“It’s nearly impossible to see it all,” says Lisa Wischniewski, attending ITB as a travel and tourism student. “This is my second year and I think it’s going to take another year before I’ve managed to get around it all.”

It is entertaining though — not least to witness how each country sells itself.

These are some of the tried and trusted techniques:

Clothes horses

Come to Romania and we'll stop following you.Come to Romania and we'll stop following you.

Dress a local in an extraordinary, exotic outfit and encourage them to pose with the public and hand out literature.

If necessary, send them on raids into rival territory — Romanian guys in straw hats were everywhere this year.

Epic stage sets

Was "Avatar" set in the Philippines?Was "Avatar" set in the Philippines?

The Cecil B. DeMille approach to sales sees many countries throwing up spectacular pavilions to outdo their rivals and prove they’re still in the game.

Viking longships, tiki bars, beach huts, jungles, waterfalls and just plain old psychedelia made up the landscape of this year’s ITB.


Almost, but not entirely, unlike being there.Almost, but not entirely, unlike being there.

Inducing nausea is, apparently, no barrier to selling a destination.

No country pavilion was complete this year without a 360-degree virtual reality experience.

Better still, a 360-degree virtual reality experience on skis, as proffered by the contingent from South Korea.

Acid flashbacks

Come to Belgium -- or this will haunt your dreams forever.Come to Belgium -- or this will haunt your dreams forever.

Pity any poor delegates trying to put behind them a misspent youth dabbling in mind-altering substances.

For the unsuspecting, ITB Berlin has an alarmingly surreal surprise around every corner — walking, talking horses, goat-horned monsters, giant urinating toddlers.

Free stuff

Nothing says "fly on our airline" like a plate of spicy sausage.Nothing says "fly on our airline" like a plate of spicy sausage.

Many stands and pavilions try to lure in passing trade with giveaways of such negligible quality it’s a wonder why they bothered.

Occasionally there’s a winner — a nice key ring, say, some delicious chocolate or lovely cakes of Mysore sandalwood soap from the Indian state of Karnataka that really make you look forward to getting back to the hotel.

More often, it’s a mini bag of Haribo candy or a tin of tiny mints.

All about business

But is it all worthwhile?

“It’s difficult to put a value on it,” says Yayehyirad Emeru, managing director of Absolute Ethiopia Tours during a quiet moment on day three.

“A lot if it is about making contacts and you don’t know what will come of it.

“This isn’t like other shows I go to. Berlin is more professional, it’s more about business.”

To prove a point Emeru slides over a business card and asks: “How can I get my products onto CNN?”

ITB Berlin: What really happens at the world’s biggest travel show? – CNN International