Optimism and a determination to face the new challenges for the travel and tourism sector was all-pervasive at the ITB Berlin, the world's leading travel trade show, last month.
Sustainability and technology were on every lip as travel industry players from across the world discussed key issues facing the industry while the event played host to a total of 10,000 exhibitors from 186 countries and over 110,000 trade visitors.
The show, which had been booked to near capacity for months, confirmed its role as a reliable economic indicator and forward-looking trendsetter.
National tourist boards, travel agents and other service providers, and hotel chains from five continents showcased their products and services at 26 spacious halls and netted deals worth a total of over €1 billion during the five-day event held in the German capital.
The focus this year was firmly on sustainable tourism. The travel industry's role and responsibility in contributing to sustainable development on a global scale was the central message delivered on the opening by Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
“Tourism’s sustained growth brings immense opportunities for economic welfare and development,” remarked the top official, while warning at the same Time that it also brings in many challenges.
“Adapting to the challenges of safety and security, constant market changes, digitalization and the limits of our natural resources should be priorities in our common action,” he stated.
In her opening address, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Tourism is an example of the opportunities of globalisation. Tourism brings people closer together and creates the foundation for growth."
“We are committed to the Agenda 2030. We are committed to sustainable tourism,” she added.
With a 5 percent increase in business volume over last year and excellent business being forecast for the coming months, the global travel industry is well on course for a record year, remarked Dr Christian Goke, CEO of Messe Berlin.
People across the globe are on the move and are travelling more than ever, especially the Millenials, who are an adventurous lot and are more than happy to take a break.
Literally living out of suitcases, this tech-savvy generation is travelling far and wide and are not deterred by security threats and the global economic conditions. For them, self-discovery and finding out about new cultures is more important than relaxation, said leading experts, who have been studying the Y2K generation's travel patterns.
Their studies dwelt upon how young people plan their trips and travel, how much they spend, what holiday activities they pursue and what motivates them.
According to experts, the main reason for the industry’s upbeat mood is the positive economic climate in the Eurozone, which according to leading economic institutes is better than at any Time since the turn of the millennium.
"The consistent forecasts of sustained global economic growth for the next two years decisively contributed to the positive mood among exhibitors and visitors these past few days," explained Dr Goke.
Luxury travel too was on the rise registering a market share of 7 percent with double-digit annual growth rates. However, there is a paradigm shift in the sector, said industry experts. Affluence is no longer defined by glitter and an exhibition of wealth, they stated.
"Luxury is now defined through intangibles. Self-discovery, simplicity and authenticity are the watchwords. “Slow movement” instead of opulent displays and excess. The term “luxury” is becoming increasingly incomprehensible," they added.
Two new platforms celebrated their debut in Berlin, reflecting strong growth in the Luxury Travel segment. With the new Loop Lounge @ ITB organised in collaboration with Loop, the trade show for luxury products, ITB Berlin created a new platform for networking in an exclusive atmosphere with a select group of exhibitors, and with the first ITB Luxury Late Night, the show provided an opportunity for visitors to cultivate contacts.
Industry heavyweights also discussed the real needs of top-end travellers and also ways for providers to successfully tap into this market segment in a sustainable way.
The high-profile travel trade show brought several hot topics into limelight including medical tourism boom, overtourism, revolutionary new forms of transport for business and private travel, besides future trends such as sharing economy and big data and the challenges of and future prospects for artificial intelligence in the travel sector.
It also dwelt on the trend of “hidden luxury” – a parallel universe characterised by incognito guests, paparazzi-free zones and living discretely in true luxury - for the exclusive high-end clientele.
"ITB Berlin remains strongly in touch with the industry’s trends. We provide a forum for pressing issues such as overtourism, revolutionary forms of travel and digitalization as well as topical themes such as luxury travel, technology and sustainability," remarked Dr Goke.
The ITB Berlin Convention, the global travel industry’s leading think tank, hosted around 150 sessions featuring over 300 outstanding speakers.
Once again, there was a high percentage of buyers in a decision-making capacity: two-thirds of trade visitors said they were directly authorised to make buying decisions for travel products. Around 74 percent of the ITB Buyers Circle attended in a decision-making capacity, with budgets that exceeded €1 million. More than one-third of the buyers present even had €10 million and more at their disposal.
”The outstanding number of bookings this year once again underlined ITB Berlin’s role as a driving force and the event mirroring the global tourism industry. Particularly in an age of political unrest, overtourism and the ongoing digital transformation, the industry faces new challenges," remarked David Ruetz, the head of ITB Berlin.
HIGH GCC PRESENCE
This year, demand for places was particularly high from Arab countries, Asia and South America. The GCC countries, as always, had a major presence at the ITB Berlin 2018, with the UAE players dominating the regional space.
Dubai Tourism was at the show for the 29th year along with over 60 partners, thus underlining the emirate’s commitment to the German market.
Key attractions included Dubai Frame, the city’s newest impressive and imposing architectural landmark; La Mer, Dubai's newest beach hotspot and the recently-launched desert conservation reserve Al Marmoom.
The UAE capital Abu Dhabi was out in force with a huge pavilion showcasing three of its key destinations and almost 70 products.
The northern emirates, too, had a considerable presence led by the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, while its neighbour Ras Al Khaimah promoted the world’s longest zipline launched recently.
Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), a regular participant, was there to showcase the kingdom’s various facilities and boost its position on the global tourism map as an attractive travel destination.
BTEA, headed by Shaikh Khaled bin Humood Al Khalifa, the chief executive officer, included representatives from the Bahrain Economic Development Board, At Bahrain, Visit Bahrain, Gulf Air, Bahrain International Circuit, and a number of leading hotels and travel agents.
“We are delighted to be participating in such a reputed international event such as the ITB Berlin Convention 2018 where we aim to promote the kingdom’s unique attractions to an international audience in line with our long-term focus to further boost the strength of the local tourism sector and drive in visitors from across the world,” remarked Shaikh Khaled.
Malaysia has been selected as the official partner country of ITB Berlin next year.
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