From 16 to 18 October, 90 exhibitors and more than 75 speakers appeared before an online audience of travel industry professionals and the general public in a live event centred in the German capital.
Presentations and discussion rounds were live-streamed from Arena Berlin. Selected presentations for B2B visitors are available for free replay at itb.com/virtualcovention.
The show, jointly organised by ITB Berlin and the Berlin Travel Festival demonstrated that it is already possible to hold events attracting widespread public interest. However, concepts have to be adapted to the new situation. We Love Travel! was originally planned as a hybrid event with exhibitors and in-person visitor attendance. However, due to the latest coronavirus developments in Germany, the organisers decided to change the concept from a hybrid to an entirely virtual event at short notice.
“Ever since the first ITB in Berlin in 1966, our mission has not changed. ITB has been gathering the international travel industry and with it, people from all over the world for over 50 years. That continues to be our mission, whether at in-person, hybrid or virtual events. Despite the industry now finding itself in probably its worst ever crisis, We Love Travel! showed the importance of exchanging information and good networking, especially now”, said David Ruetz, head of ITB Berlin.
Bernd Neff, the founder and director of the Berlin Travel Festival, noted how important is was to keep looking ahead: “One could say that We Love Travel! was therapeutic. It recognised the symptoms, diagnosed the problem and prescribed a treatment. We saw that the industry was longing for an opportunity to talk to one another – so we established a networking platform for exchanging information. We invited professional experts to diagnose the problems. And ultimately, we provided inspiration and motivation to help both the industry and travel enthusiasts keep looking ahead.”
The We Love Travel! platform provided an opportunity for AI-based, virtual networking with industry representatives and invited the participants to a total of three online networking sessions. With the networking platform attracting more than 650 users, the event, jointly organised by ITB Berlin and the Berlin Travel Festival, has been a veritable success. Exhibitors, buyers, speakers, trade visitors and representatives of the media arranged some 1,000 individual meetings with each other. Overall, more than 700 new business ties were established between participants, with over 98% giving positive feedback.
Martina von Münchhausen, a tourism expert at WWF Germany, who took part as an exhibitor and in the programme, reporting on the state of the planet and the challenges facing tourism in the future at the virtual event: “As a tourism expert, I was able to respond to the questions from the audience. The networking platform provided an additional opportunity to make direct contact with important industry players. Many thanks to the We Love Travel! team for a successful event.”
Olaf Lieberwirth from TMB Tourismus Marketing Brandenburg GmbH said he liked the new approach to targeting travellers and said, “For us, the virtual We Love Travel! Festival offered an exciting and fascinating alternative for addressing our future guests and visitors. The amount of technology involved was impressive.”
On the weekend alone, more than 40 speakers told their stories about stormy seas in South Africa, the bars in Tehran and coast of South America. High points included a multivision show by Ulla Lohmann, a photojournalist and filmmaker, who gave a passionate account of how she had fulfilled her life’s dream to be the first woman to explore an active volcano. Hitchhiker and globetrotter Stefan Korn’s stories about crossing 56 countries in two years also kept viewers glued to their screens. The lecture given by Anselm Pahnke, who travelled 3,000 kilometres by bicycle across the Kalahari Desert on his own, was also one of the best-attended weekend events for the public.
The 12 most important takeaways from the Friday events for B2B visitors at We Love Travel!:
1. The main problem is uncertainty
From 1950 to 2019 overnights increased sixty-fold globally, said Peter Kautz from Statista. “But then the coronavirus arrived.” With tourism activities having suffered a 55 per cent loss in turnover worldwide (as things stood), the pandemic had eclipsed all other crises to date, he said. Roland Gassner from Travel Data & Analytics added that although the collapse was similar to 9/11 or the financial crisis, its duration and prospects for recovery were not. This would take longer and no one could say how long.
2. The situation is not hopeless
“Stop whining”, said many of those at the discussions. Pointing to the most recent surveys, Michael Buller from Verband Internet Reisevertrieb (VIR) said “people want to travel”, all the more so if they had been unable to for a long time. What was more they had “the money, time and desire to travel again”, said Ulf Sonntag, a market researcher at the Kieler Institut für Tourismusforschung. Even if they could not necessarily choose the destinations they wanted they were “booking trips like mad”, said Roland Gassner, director of Business Development, Travel Data + Analytics.
3. Transparency builds trust
With people now making new travel choices, maintaining trust has become more important. “Trust has become the new currency for successful tourism marketing. The crisis has impacted on all stakeholders to a greater or lesser degree. None were prepared, nor were the customers. Greater cooperation was necessary to overcome the situation”, said Christian Tänzler, press spokesman for Visit Berlin.
4. Successes achieved by compliance and diversity must be maintained after the crisis
“Travelling must not stop”, said Rika Jean-Francois, CSR commissioner for ITB Berlin. It broadened travellers’ minds and promoted understanding that ensured the survival of this unique planet, its natural beauty and ethical values. “That is the only way the successes achieved by compliance and diversity can be maintained and built upon after the crisis.”
5. Socially responsible awareness is increasing
The loss of tourism revenues has had a serious impact on livelihoods and human rights at travel destinations in some cases. “We also need to consider what it means for local residents”, said Dirk Inger from Deutscher Reiseverband.
6. Customers are eager for more information and want to feel secure
Exchanging information and a sense of security have become more important than ever. Both organisers and people at destinations have recognised that. Detlef Schroer from Schauinsland Reisen was certain customers would not give up their demands after the crisis. That was precisely the challenge for providers.
7. Geographically, the coronavirus has spread tourism apart
As a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to traditional mass tourism destinations other more exclusive ones are becoming popular too. This could have a positive impact on destinations’ sustainability, by putting an end to mass tourism and overtourism for instance, but only if stakeholders identify with that goal. Harald Pechlaner, professor of Tourism Studies at Universität Eichstätt, said “Newly discovered travel trends, staycationing for example, need to be consolidated.” Even if it was hard to imagine every German taking their holidays in Germany in the future, the destinations that had experienced an economic upturn needed to do everything to maintain this trend.
8. Online bookings are here to stay
Between every offline booking and a departure there is a delay. Particularly at a time when coronavirus restrictions were changing daily that meant there were risks, said Peter Kautz from Statista. Uwe Frers from ADAC Camping said that Germany’s overflowing campsites in the summer had made that clear to even the most stubborn traditionalists.
9. Pricing wars are brief and unsuccessful
The tourism industry’s traditionally slim margins meant that pricing wars in order to win back customers were really out of the question. Nor would they make any sense, said Detlef Schroers from Schauinsland Reisen. One argument against them was that the crisis had triggered customer demand for various extra services. Nevertheless, one could not rule out the intentions of some providers.
10. Premium travel is on the rise
Premium travel, which gives customers a greater sense of security and is associated with better hygiene, is on the rise, as evidenced by the latest bookings. Generally speaking, there will be new services available to travellers, private airport shuttles to the hotel for example.
11. Package tours are alive and well
With their promise of better security, hygiene and flexibility for the customer, package tours will survive the coronavirus crisis. According to Detlef Schroer from Schauinsland Reisen, their strong point is that they offer customers a greater sense of security in very uncertain times. However, customers would have to pay corresponding prices, otherwise it would not make economic sense.
12. The market needs new products
For Boris Raoul from the Invia Group, focusing completely on the customer was the key to handling the situation and its consequences. Travel agencies had to accompany the consumer on the customer journey with tailor-made products.