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ITB Berlin: A Morning at the Largest Travel Trade Fair

The secret was not to join the press for the official opening tour of the ITB, which is the world’s largest tourism trade fair. Huge groups with millions of cameras scare potential interview partners away. Going alone was a better option.

But there was no escaping the group. By the time it reached one of the German pavilions, the one in which Berlin presents itself as a tourist destination, the city’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller was part of it, flanked by a rather big entourage including police officers with machine guns who followed him. But they kept their distance.

The ITB’s host country, Germany, and its host city, Berlin, are tourism masters themselves. Judging from the huge stand Berlin set up at the trade fair, the capital seems to want even more visitors. Thirteen and a half million tourists came in 2018. (Related article: Berlin: Tourist Numbers Keep on Exploding).

This year’s ITB partner country Malaysia naturally has the largest setup with loads of colorful photos of the stunning nature it offers. Looking at those can make people forget the latest scandal, at least for a moment. At the ITB’s press conference on Tuesday, Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism actually said there were no homosexuals in his country. And Israelis are banned from entering it. (Related article: Germany: Tourism Fair ITB Turns into Political Issue in Several Ways)

Who has countless stands as well? The United States of America do. Many U.S. states and cities actually set up their own. Even Amelia Island, located off the Florida shore, has a little stand, where Kate Harris explains what kind of wonderful beaches it has, that paradise the size and shape of Manhattan.

At one of the two Latin American halls, a Mexican representative is too important for an interview, while Ireth Rodriguez Villalobos (see main photo), the chief of the Tourism Promotion Department of Costa Rica, one of the safer countries in South America, describes the picturesque jungles the country offers. Her colleagues from the Dominican Republic paid for big ads at one of the fairground’s entrances.

Bulgaria is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the ITB, meaning even the communist regime of dictator Todor Zhivkov sent representatives until 1989. The tiny country at the south-eastern tip of Europe is successfully selling its Black Sea beaches, nice looking villages, its rose oil and potholes.

The Arab world has several halls, where countries like Egypt, Morocco, but also Iran show what they have to offer. At the Iranian stand, a man and a lady seem to be there just to show their flag. Iran is not exactly a hot tourist destination, while others in the region are.

One of those is Israel, which booked the large part of the highest floor in fair hall no. 7. In this sort of hidden environment, many Israeli towns and attractions have a stand of their own. Shabtai Shay of the Eilat Hotel Association praises the weather and the sand at his Red Sea beaches.

In two halls, tourism for the LGBTI community is being promoted. At one of those stands, Clayton Mercieca from Malta says gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersex people were more visible now. Members of the LGBTI community wanted to feel safe and accepted. Also they wanted to find fellow LGBTI people during their holidays.

At one of the fair halls dedicated to Africa, Linda Nxumalo tells visitors where Eswatini comes from. It is the new name for Swaziland. For its 50th independence anniversary, the King had given the country its new name, she says. It was still the same country, but it had become “more ethnic now, more relevant and more representative of who were are.”

Back at one of the European fair halls, the Swiss are not allowed to offer cheese fondue or Raclette cheese. “It’s because of the smell”, a young Swiss gentleman behind one of the country’s stands explains. What a pity. Smelling the cheese even in the neighboring fair halls is a small price to pay for delicious Swiss specialties.

Yes, food is being offered at the ITB, for rather high prices. On the lower end of the range, a small object which looks like a dry mixture of a bread roll and a slice of pizza costs 4 Euro (4.50 U.S. Dollars or 3.40 GBP). On the upper end, the sky is the limit.

One thing is certain: The organizers are doing their job. They thought of everything, invested a lot into promotion and their press department, and they are expanding like crazy. Apart from the main ITB in Berlin, they are running travel trade fairs all over the place. There is the new ITB India, the ITB Asia in Singapore and the ITB China. Only the Moon has not been covered yet.

During the first two days, business visitors are invading the ITB. The weekend is for private visitors as well, potential tourists who want to choose great locations to visit. And there are tons of them.

Yes, the ITB is a huge event. Whoever walks all of its 26 fair halls will probably suffer from leg muscle pain for a month. Free rickshaw shuttles are standing by for editors who need to get back to the train and are too tired to walk.

More details about the ITB can be found on its website.

Note: Video report to follow.