Every year, for the past 54 years, ITB Berlin (Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin) – a major event in the travel industry calendar – takes place at exhibition grounds in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district of Berlin, at a venue called Messe Berlin. The event has grown to be the biggest travel fair in the world, with around 10,000 exhibitors and over 100,000 trade visitors each year, as well as many visitors from the public.
This year, it was looking like the event would continue as usual but, at the eleventh hour, the decision was made to cancel the show for the first time in its history due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
This has generated quite a mixed response. Many people don’t agree with the decision, feeling that it is due to hysteria stirred up by the media and that it sends out the wrong message. In truth, you can see how it is difficult to sell holidays if it is perceived that people in the industry are seemingly not prepared to travel themselves (even if they are). Others feel that it is the right decision and that bringing over 100,000 people together from all around the world, all inter-mingling for a week, and them then travelling back to their respective nations, is a risk that’s too big to take.
Although I was due to attend – and was planning to go – a part of me feels it was probably the responsible thing to do. If there was an outbreak linked to the event, the consequences globally could be very serious and the organisers would no doubt be hung, drawn and quartered for having proceed so recklessly.
The unfortunate thing was the timing of the decision. All week, the organisers had been insistent that the event was still going ahead. Yesterday morning, they changed their tune slightly, saying “Messe Berlin GmbH is currently coordinating with the public authorities at federal and state level on how to proceed with regard to ITB Berlin 2020 and COVID-19. It is expected that more detailed information will be available in the evening of 28 February 2020 at the earliest. We will inform you as soon as we have new information.”
Even at this point, it still wasn’t clear that they were going to cancel (although I had suspected it) and this didn’t come to light until well into Friday evening, well after usual close of business in Europe. By then, many people had already begun their travels, exhibition stand builders (some with teams that are tens of people strong) had already been hard at work for some time, and so on.
With the benefit of hindsight, if the event was to be cancelled, I think it needed to happen much earlier. Instead, the message that had gone out was one of ‘business as usual’. Rather unfortunate, I suppose, though, was the timing and uncertainly of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe. At first, it seemed confined to just northern Italy but the picture was changing on a daily basis. Events such as he SIHH Geneva watch fair, on the other hand – which doesn’t take place until the end of April – was cancelled earlier in the week.
I have personally been very fortunate because the owners of the accommodation I booked have agreed to defer my booking to next year’s event (which will be held 10-14 March 2021) which they were by no means obliged to do. I had booked my outgoing flight with a budget airline and had yet to book my return flight as I would be flying back to a different airport and some of my travel logistics were yet to be finalised, so my personal loss is negligible. For others, though, it will be a very different picture.
Of course, like most people attending, I also had many meetings lined up so next week I am planning to meet as many of those people as possible through online appointments.
If you are someone who was going to meet with me (or even if you are not, but would like to learn more about how A Luxury Travel Blog can help your business), please feel free to book an online appointment via https://calendly.com/paulhjohnson/altb
In the meantime, we welcome your comments on whether you agree or disagree with the decision to cancel the event, or if you simply want to share your own personal story on how it has affected you. Whatever your involvement, we would love to hear from you!