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.

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