Going to Berlin's travel trade show, the ITB, is like entering the Bermuda Triangle: you're lured into it, to only get lost in the end - lost in the reverie of your next vacation.
Having sand on my shoes after a visit to the ITB in Berlin, the world's leading travel trade show, is something I have gotten used to. But the agony of choice about where on Earth to go on my next vacation, while being confronted with the fair's miniature replicas of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, is the kind of challenge I still haven’t risen above. And when I say replicas, I don't mean posters. I mean waterfalls, beaches, palm trees, jungle huts and whatever else comes into the exhibitors' minds. Some airlines even reproduce interiors of their airplanes.
The ITB - which this year runs through March 11 - is not just any trade fair. It's a mini-trip around the world, a collage of cultures, a preview of marvelous places one hasn't seen yet. And it is probably also torture for the other 699,000 people like myself who visit the Berlin fair each March - about a quarter of them foreigners. No wonder all hotels are fully booked in the city during the event, despite doubled prices - and that in Berlin, where accommodation infrastructure is certainly not lacking.
I still haven't found the perfect transportation means to reach the fair. Try taking a taxi and you'll wait forever. Driving there is something you definitely don't want to because looking for a parking place would waste precious ITB time. You might opt for the subway, but expect it to get super packed about four or five stations before the fair.
That's because five days long, everybody is preoccupied with going to or leaving the ITB. Besides, the Berlin tourism fair is omnipresent in the city. Huge street banners, which I like to think of as tools of large-scale hypnotism, make one imagine "Malaysia - Truly Asia," "Brazil- Sensational," "I Feel SLOVENIA," or "South Africa - Leave Ordinary Behind." Don't you hear the deep voice slowly saying "loook- aaat- thiiis- - buuuy- a- triiip"?
And you bet it works
So we return to my agony: which trip to buy? Two weeks in a secluded over-water bungalow in the Maldives, a truly Arab experience in Abu Dhabi, an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, or maybe just Brazil? Those are some of my preferences so far. Nevertheless, this year's trade fair presents offers from 180 countries. One also can't miss the commercials of the 2012 official partner country Egypt, the booth of which spreads over two thousand square meters (21,500 sq. feet).
But let's assume I've come to a decision regarding my destination. Things in no way end there, however, since then come the offers of the tour operators, booking companies, airlines, car rentals and with them another thousand different options. The news is that this year, one really can book a holiday directly at the fair.
In the meantime, to catch my breath and give myself a break, I can enjoy a shiatsu at the Japanese booth, a sip of Indian mango lassi at another booth and then take a look at the Togolese wood manufacture workshop. My hands are already full of give-aways: holy water from Israel, some cream from the Dead Sea, a teddy bear, and loads of leaflets. It's like everybody is trying to lure me into taking holiday on the spot.
But, wherever I decide to go this year, I'll be flying from the Berlin Brandenburg International airport, which is scheduled to open in June and which is also the highlight of the City of Berlin booth at ITB.
It's worth billions
Berlin, by the way, is profiting from this event at maximum. In addition to the booked-out hotels, people are organizing ITB parties and official dinners with delegations from hundreds of countries. For the taxi drivers, the ITB week is New Year's Eve reloaded. Just imagine that 11,000 exhibitors, a few thousand journalists covering the event, plus the guests of the ITB Congress might just want to get a taste of Berlin nightlife - but they might have problems since the bars and clubs are packed to the gills.
I guess they're just vacation sales people having a mini-vacation in the German capital. It's a vacation with benefits, though, since the fair generates about six billion euros (nearly eight billion dollars) in revenues. A tiny bit of that comes from my pocket, by the way.
At some point, I just had to put an end to my torture and left the ITB. But the hypnosis has had amazing effects. As I washed off the ITB sand from my shoes, I imagined feeling sand between my toes. And that's when I realized I'll probably being spending my vacation this summer on the Brazilian coasts of the Atlantic.
Author: Lavinia Pitu
Editor: Louisa Schaefer