March 1, 2021

A new skipper at the helm

Exclusive Interview: Martin Ecknig, CEO, Messe Berlin GmbH

Messe Berlin, organisers of ITB Berlin NOW, could be said to be akin to a very big ship… and from this year, there is a new “skipper” at the helm, in the form of Martin Ecknig, who has taken the place of Dr Christian Göke as CEO of the organisation. Having arrived in this new position at what appears to be a rather challenging time, we asked why he accepted this new job.  

To start with, I’ve known the trade show business from the other side as an exhibitor and visitor for many years and have always found it highly interesting. In addition, these are exciting times in this industry. A lot will be happening in the near future and I find that particularly appealing. I am confident that the trade show business will pick up again. Business needs face-to-face encounters and I am eager to take part in shaping the future of this industry.

Business needs face-to-face encounters and I am eager to take part in shaping the future of this industry.

What is the biggest challenge in turning live events into virtual events?
It does not make sense to simply transfer the former show concept into the virtual space. The challenge for virtual events lies in the task of defining and strengthening virtual benefits while at the same being clear about the fact that no virtual event can be as inspiring and emotional as a live event. It’s not about copying the physical world into the online world, it’s about identifying the complementary part of each, and enhancing the experience of both. To give you one example, we recently installed a permanent TV studio at out fairground, because part of what we do at the moment is closer to TV than to traditional trade show experiences and the demand to broadcast content will remain well beyond Corona times.

What learning can be had from this time?
The lesson is quite simple: There will still be trade fairs and live events after the pandemic. We literally feel our customers and partners thirsting for them every day. That’s why our focus lies on the relaunch starting this summer. At the same time, it has become clear that we cannot and will not continue with the old concepts alone. What we need and what we are developing is a “Messe Plus” (trade show plus). By this, I mean new approaches that combine digital elements and offline elements as well as business models. We will continue to provide market participants THE most relevant and most inspiring gathering of the industry and as well we extend the reach and accessibility to what matters.

There is a huge desire to network, discuss urgent topics (…)

What, for you, will be the highlights of this year’s ITB Berlin NOW event?
At the moment, everything is a little different to what we are all used to and against the backdrop of the pandemic, there is a huge desire to network, discuss urgent topics and get orientation now, more than ever. But it’s too basic to connect changes exclusively to Corona. Essentially, every industry, and therefore the tourism industry as well, is asking itself the question about purpose, the suitability, the relevance, the quality about what matters tomorrow. ITB Berlin NOW has been developed into something that is truly unique in the industry. It really enables users to take part in rich live discussions and to participate in though-leaders’ sessions in an easy-to-navigate, structured manner. One of the big advantages is that there are no time restrictions. Not only is the platform open prior to the event, it will also remain online until the end of May. This year, Messe Berlin is significantly expanding the trade show experience.

Where does the future lie for the events and travel industry?
I am very positive. Sure, virtual events like live streaming and virtual matchmaking make sense for exhibitors and attendees when they cannot be on-site during the pandemic. However, we are already noticing a certain fatigue when it comes to consuming online content. The desire to meet and exchange ideas in person remains a human need. Therefore, the event industry will rise again, as soon as the circumstances allow for more personal exchanges. We certainly will be prepared for this development. That’s why for us, it means developing new concepts under the motto “Messe Plus” that combine both – digital developments and the basic need for direct contact.

“The world isn’t flat” and is by far bigger than a computer screen. We understand the anxiety and feeling of uncertainty in the industry. We stand firmly side-by-side with the global travel community. People’s interest in travelling, gaining new experiences and literally expanding their horizon remains unabated – the desire to travel will return. Thankfully, the big challenges we have had to confront since the pandemic began are also a force for good, bringing unbelievable energy and innovation. The industry would not be what it is if, over the years, it had not met the challenges of every age. In this crisis too, it will manage to reinvent itself and react to the new situation.

In the future, we might combine the key elements of an in-person and virtual industry event in the best possible way- namely ITB’s defining feature as an international marketplace and think tank on the one hand, with its importance as a business matching hub, news source and catalyser for business networks on the other. By doing so, we can satisfy everyone’s needs and elevate the show to a new level.

Photo:Martin Ecknig, CEO, Messe Berlin GmbH

A broad background…

Martin Ecknig looks back upon 37 years professional life, with a wide range of responsibilities. At Siemens, he learned to familiarise himself with new contexts time and again. He knows what it means to tackle new challenges and make change processes a success: “Among other things, I lived and worked in China for 17 years and I am quite happy to put my international experience to use for the trade show business with its very strong international focus”, explains Ecknig.

A message for YOU… from Martin Ecknig

As I’m very curious to learn about your experience at ITB Berlin NOW, please feel free to drop me a message at or at my social media channels
(LinkedIn or Twitter) and I’m happy to get your input.