Why Is the World’s Largest Travel Trade Show in Berlin?

ITB Berlin “The History”

By Stephen J. Renard President, Renard International Hospitality Search Consultants | February 15, 2015

When the second World War ended West Berlin was an island surrounded by East Germany. In order to help stabilize and make West Berlin self-sufficient (as they were afraid it would be taken over by the Russians) the Berlin Government supported by West European countries `decided in 1965 to start discussions about an overseas import trade show. The ITB means “International Tourist Exchange”.

In the early days of the ITB West Berlin had all the intrigue a modern day Casablanca. It was at the end of the cold war and there was a wall dividing East and West Berlin. During the early days of the ITB we would hear about those who tried to escape from East Berlin to the West and were shot outside the wall. As well, West German taxi drivers who had roots in East Berlin, were afraid to take passengers to East Berlin Hotels as they weren’t certain they would be allowed to return to West Berlin.

The story of the ITB is a unique success story. However oddly enough, , back in 1965, a year before the first event took place the West Berlin Government were far from enthusiastic about the idea of establishing a trade show of this kind in West Berlin. The West Berlin archives contain correspondence in which the idea of staging a “tourism exchange” is described as “utterly futile” and advised against in no uncertain terms. The “Berliner Morgenpost” newspaper, meanwhile, described the idea of a “travel exhibition” as “ingenious”, particularly in the light of West Berliners’ restricted travel options and it gave far better chances to a West Germany-only trade show than an international exhibition.

The ITB trade started with nine exhibitors and the first President Manfred Busche launched the event in 1966. It was part of an overseas imports trade show: Nine exhibitors from five countries – Brazil, Egypt, the Federal Republic of Germany, Guinea and Iraq – presented their products and services to 250 trade visitors in a display area of 580m. The subject of a discussion with 24 Central and West African States at a seminar in the Tiergarten convention center was “New Holiday Destinations in New Continents”.

In the late 1960’s the sharp increase in options available to holiday-makers and mushrooming travel companies and organizations conspired to make the second event in 1968 a tremendous success. The “2nd International Tourism Exchange” was held at the same time as the Berlin International Boating and Leisure Exhibition. The show, now spanned 4,700m to accommodate 1,250 trade visitors and 123,500 Berliners came to learn about foreign holiday destinations. It was the time of the “Cold War”, and yet two Eastern bloc countries, Romania and Hungary, were also represented. The ITB Berlin was to remain a peaceful platform transcending political boundaries over the years. Exhibitors from the GDR and the Soviet Union, Egypt and Israel showcased their respective countries in a spirit of peaceful coexistence and still do – even in the direct aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

At the first trade show which opened in 1966 there were 250 trade visitors and in 2014 that has now increased to almost 150,000 and the Exhibition space which was in 1996 just about 600 meters is now almost 200,000 meters. In 1996 five countries and one hotel chain participated; in 2014 – 180 countries participated and hundreds of hotel groups.

Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.