The world's largest travel trade show takes place in the German capital with around 10,000 exhibitors from 184 countries and regions. Some 180,000 visitors are expected.
"Discover the world in just one day," - that's the claim organizers use to promote the ITB. The trip around the world is made possible in the halls of the Berlin trade fair thanks to digital technology. With the aid of virtual reality goggles, visitors can encounter rhinoceroses or climb mountains from the trade fair stalls. Driving through the Brandenburg Gate, going on safari in Tanzania or climbing the Kilimanjaro - this year the travel trade fair lets its visitors dive into virtual 3D-worlds.
Over 180 holiday regions on all continents will be presenting themselves at the tourist industry's traditional start of the season in Berlin. Some 180,000 visitors are expected to attend this 51st ITB - a trade fair that has become ever more sophisticated in presenting holiday regions. Many travelers have already taken a stroll on the beach, digitally of course, before they even get on a flight. Many hotels can also be virtually toured on the internet. As a result, ITB exhibitors have technically upgraded their fair displays. "Everything to do with the internet is of growing importance to the travel industry," said trade fair manager Martin Buck.
Partnering with Botswana
Botswana is this year's official partner country. It is promoting itself with the Kalahari desert, the Okavango Delta, lagoons and its impressive wildlife population - including rhinoceroses, elephants, zebras, lions and giraffes. In the last 40 years, the wild animal population has halved globally, but Botswana's ambassador to Germany, Tswelopele Moremi, said that in her own country it has grown. Some 35,000 Germans visited the southern African country last year. This year Botswana will try to attract more vacationers with its display at the trade fair, which will include dance performances as well as traditional crafts like basket weaving.
Turkish representatives have other concerns. The number of bookings to Turkey crashed last year under the perceived threat of terror attacks. The country has increased its presence at the trade fair to fill an entire hall. Recent tension between Berlin and Ankara has also likely played a role in Germans' deciding not to travel to Turkey in the same numbers as previous years.
Other exhibitors come from Asia and also a strong contingent from Arab countries. ITB Exhibition Director David Ruetz said that as all 26 halls are again fully booked, it shows that the travel industry - despite political uncertainties - still places great value on personal interaction. Two thirds of the visitors are from the trade - and the first three days of the fair are reserved for them. The fair opens to the public on March 11th and 12th.
Global political upheaval and the advances of the digital world are also a central focus of ITB Convention. Here topics will cover everything from travel safety and security to how best to contact customers on their smartphones. Other topics include halal tourism, sustainable tourism as well as specially tailored packages for gays and lesbians. This year at ITB Berlin, for the first time the important growth segment of medical tourism will receive its own platform.
Before the start of the ITB, the tourism industry warned against travel restrictions.
"We need travel," said Michael Frenzel, President of the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry. "Freedom and travel are mutually dependent."
Frenzel referred to the British referendum to leave the European Union and the US travel ban for people from six predominantly Muslim countries. Also worrying for the tourism industry is the uncertainty of the future of visa-free travel between the EU, the United States and Canada. The EU decided to review visa agreements after the US demanded visas from citizens of some European Union member countries.
"This might lead us back to the bad old days, when everybody needed a visa to enter the USA," Frenzel said. "That was a nightmare."
is/ks/Burkhard Fraune (dpa)