March 12, 2024

“Deep and trusting business relationships can only develop when we meet in real life”

ITB Berlin News spoke with Dr Mario Tobias, CEO of Messe Berlin, in an exclusive interview following this year’s show

From the ITB Opening Ceremony hosted by this year’s partner country Oman to the partnership with Albania for 2025, Dr Mario Tobias reflected on ITB Berlin 2024’s triumphs and the pivotal role of face-to-face interactions in fostering authentic connections. With sustainability and innovations taking centre stage, ITB Berlin is working towards a more inclusive and responsible travel industry for the future.

This was your first ITB Berlin in the role of CEO of Messe Berlin, can you share how the experience has been for you personally?
The show was a very exciting and emotional experience for me. It’s an absolute honour to welcome nearly the entire world to Berlin, and I’m extremely proud of our team. As the new CEO of Messe Berlin, it was fantastic to meet so many new people – simultaneously, I could personally draw inspiration for my next vacation. Our host country, Oman, sparked a lot of interest, and the new one for 2025 – Albania – is a hot candidate for one of my upcoming journeys, too.

What were some of the standout moments or innovations at ITB Berlin this year?
Among the highlights was undoubtedly our grand opening gala, hosted by this year’s Official Host Country Oman on the eve of the show. Guests experienced a spectacular show, providing insights into the diverse landscapes and culture awaiting visitors in the country. Equally touching for me was the signing ceremony where I, together with the Tourism Minister of Albania, signed the partnership agreement for 2025. Professionally, I was impressed by the line-up of top-speakers at the ITB Berlin Convention and our Innovation Radar, which we conducted for the second time this year. We presented a total of 16 innovations, predominantly focusing on the opportunities presented by Artificial Intelligence. AI was indeed one of THE themes in 2024 – including in the convention programme.

People’s desire to travel must not come at the expense of the Earth

Sustainability is a growing focus within the travel and tourism industry. How was this reflected at ITB Berlin?
With the Sustainability Track, we even dedicated a specific track to the topic, which was exciting and inspiring for all attendees. ITB Berlin actively campaigns for social equality and ecological responsibility in tourism and once again provided a comprehensive platform and inspiration for promoting a dialogue between actors in the tourism value chain on a more diverse and inclusive industry. In addition to AI and digitalisation, climate justice was one of the main topics at ITB Berlin and the ITB Berlin Convention. We all know there is only one planet. Accordingly, people’s desire to travel must not come at the expense of the Earth and so many experts at the convention appealed to the industry to aim for net zero by 2030.

Why are face-to-face events so important within the industry?
Teams and Zoom have made business life easier in many ways – but they do not replace the human exchange face to face. In our opinion, deep and trusting business relationships can only develop when we meet in real life. This is also confirmed by the top buyers from the ITB Buyers Circle, who made significant deals this year, and the many business meetings during ITB Berlin. Achieving such results is simply not possible through video-calls alone.

Looking ahead to next year, what are some of your main goals for ITB Berlin 2025?
Firstly, we want to further advance our 360-degree approach throughout the entire year. Secondly, we are all very excited about the partnership with our upcoming Official Host Country Albania. This comparatively small nation has so much to offer and is still a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. The hospitality is sincere and warm – I am confident that, similar to Oman this year, their presence at the world’s leading travel trade show will motivate many people to travel there.

Photo: © Messe Berlin GmbH

ITB Berlin 2024 a ringing success

Dr Mario Tobias highlighted that ITB Berlin exceeded expectations this year with a slight increase in attendees at nearly 100,000, and this despite challenging strike circumstances. He stated that this triumph “clearly showcases the strength of our brand” and once again “mirrored industry developments.” Beyond figures, he noted that the mood among exhibitors, visitors and speakers was “very positive throughout” and that there was a general consensus that the return to travel went beyond pent-up demand after the pandemic and was “basically stable” with neither inflation nor high energy prices curbing demand.

The ITB family: Year-round, all over the world

Dr Mario Tobias called the ITB brand “a global family of 4 trade shows”. ITB China is up next in Shanghai in May, then in September, ITB India follows in Mumbai. ITB Asia in Singapore will conclude this year’s series of ITB editions in October. He stressed that while each show is unique, and the markets are highly diverse, “nevertheless, there are themes and aspects that concern all of us: Climate justice is, of course, one of them – as well as labour shortages and Artificial Intelligence.”