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ITB Berlin

ITB: Looking through the rear view mirror

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN Staff Writer  Apr 17, 2009

The ITB Berlin, the world's largest travel trade exhibition, could be characterized as "boot camp" for hospitality, travel and tourism executives. The size and scope of ITB is so awesome, I spent more time missing meetings and press conferences than I did in actually getting to talk to anyone. However, my trainer was delighted I was there since I lost 5 pounds running around the labyrinth and got a “good job” high – five from Conynn.

Weeks after the event, I am still trying to figure out why an international travel conference overrun with people who spend their time planning events for others finds it so difficult to organize itself.

I cannot figure out why:
1. Meetings are spread higgledy-piggledy in multiple venues, and
2. Held at competitive times, and
3. Venue Information Guides I spoke to were clueless about meeting/booth locations

I have concluded that whoever schedules the seminars, workshops, and discussions must has been trained by the notorious Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland fame in cooperation with a meeting planner on speed.

Another “head scratcher” is the food service. Time-sensitive events require a “grab and run” cuisine but most of the venues required
1. Joining a queue to place an order
2. Waiting forever on the queue
3. Pacing up and down to find a place to sit and eat
4. Questionable sanitation

Maybe it is my American attitude, but a quick tuna sandwich and a diet Coke seems more appropriate than the wait, order, wait, sit and dining options. It also appeared that the sanitation standards of a local McDonalds’ is significantly more stringent then the food service operations at ITB

Events I Actually Located
Cinderella: Ruhr 2010
Dr. Fritz Platen, the managing director of Ruhr 2010, discussed this area in terms of transformation: from coal pits to museums, theatres and jazz cellars; from slagheaps to green hills, parks and indoor ski slopes. With rail tracks no longer required to carry steel girders these paths now welcome joggers and bicyclists while architects, designers and artists are calling former factory buildings as their business centers.

UNWTO: Security
Claiming that we all come to security issues with a subjective viewpoint, Dr. Dirk Glaeber, the chief of Risk and Crises Management for the United Nations World Tourism Organization, determined that some sectors of the travel industry have no security preparation, while others are very sophisticated in handling crises and sharing information with the public.

Historically, tourism has been reviewed primarily in marketing and public relations terms that included vivid descriptions of white sandy beaches, blue green water and palm trees, with social-economic based issues of safety and security left to other departments and budgets. Now there is a dilemma: Do tourism executives find ways to resolve security issues or do security professionals learn how to deal with the dynamically changing environment of travel and tourism?

What (if any) is the role of UNWTO in assisting destinations facing security challenges that include such disparate matters as public health pandemics (i.e., bird flu), civil unrest (i.e., airport, seaport and road closures), weather episodes (i.e., tsunamis) and politically-inspired “do not go” alerts (i.e. government advisories)? It is quite obvious to consumers and the trade that tax – levied supported administrations of tourism are challenged financially, structurally and politically and in some cases completely baffled on how to deal effectively and efficiently resolve security challenges.

Some government representatives (i.e., Germany) suggested that security issues should be handled entirely by the local agencies, while other destination managers (i.e., South Africa) welcomed the guidance and support available through the UNWTO.

Dr. Glaeber discussed the launching of a website for government sponsored travel and tourism agencies that would share emergency data and accurate travel advisories to its members. The information would be valid, unbiased and current.

Visas and Passports: Keeping Travelers Out
Even the most sophisticated traveler occasionally gets caught in a country’s visa trap and either cannot get into a locale because of overlooked or misinterpreted paperwork, forbidden to leave a country because of contract disputes or owes a huge fine for overstaying regulated visa permitted visitor days.

Some countries will not allow anyone into their country without a visa obtained in their home country, while other destinations are delighted to sell visas at the airport. Some destinations will accept payment with a credit card while others will accept payment only in the currency of their country. There. are countries that will accept international students with US green cards, others require separate paperwork

There are more visa traps than an exterminator and for organizations with executives qualified as frequent flyers traveling to remote locations, (as well as popular destinations), it is better/best to work with a visa consultant as well as representatives of consulates and embassies at the destination so that the management team is not stranded at a airport and/or return posthaste to their home country on the next available flight.

Visa applications require details on the reason for the trip (i.e., student education, engineering project, medical tests) and specifics as to the number of days/months the stay requires. If a visitor is traveling on a tourist visa but is not a tourist, this “error” may be considered a serious offense by the host country, with the “traveler” spending time in a local prison and all company employees banned from doing business in the country.

Small Luxury Hotels
A long-time leader in the hospitality, travel and tourism leader, Paul Kerr, the CEO for Small Luxury Hotels (SLH), discussed the changes he has seen in the hotel industry since he started his career with as the finance director of Cunard.

The focus of his current enterprise (SLH) is on small hotels (average 55 rooms) that will not “blight” the landscape and where “guests get VIP treatment at hotels with fantastic locations.”

Kerr believes that he has built an outstanding network of people who find the SLH selection exactly what they need. This elite group of global guests share such significant similarities as high net worth and a focus on a quality experience.

Kerr finds that many hotel chains are not doing well because of an oversupply in their category. While there has been a decline in SLH occupancy, he is confident of his brand and marketing strategy which includes a band of mystery shoppers who provide a continuous stream of information as to what is really going on at the properties. This information is constantly updated and enables the organization to respond quickly to areas that do not meet SLH quality standards.

Formerly known as SRS (Steigenberger Reservation Systems), this organization was an icon for global quality. In 2005, SRS morphed into WorldHotels, an umbrella marketing operation that represents 500 unique hotels in 300 destinations in 70 countries and hosts million of guests each year. Based in Frankfort, Germany, World encourages its member hotels to maintain their own identity in an international marketplace that often selects commonality over distinctive and unique amenities.

2010: My ITB Ego and Me
All facets of the industry are hopeful that world leaders will have pulled their respective economies out of the 2009 toilet and 2010 will be a recovery year. The optimists that populate travel and tourism businesses will undoubtedly return to Berlin for ITB next year and put up with the chaos that pushes the strongest to the outer limits of sanity.

The survivors will build larger booths, offer fine vintage champagne to their “honored guests” along with gourmet cuisine at private parties. At the end of the day this conference is more than a travel market place, it is a raison d'être to publicly demonstrate who is better and best in the industry and very often it is the size that matters.

ITB: Looking through the rear view mirror
Photo by Nelson Alcantara

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