A difficult decision… and a new vision

David Ruetz, head of ITB Berlin – on the cancellation of the show… and counter measures being put in place

Looking back at the cancellation of this year’s ITB Berlin, we asked David Ruetz, head of ITB Berlin, just how difficult it was to make the decision, and what the process was behind it.

Messe Berlin had been pointing out for weeks that the decision to hold or cancel major events could only be made on the basis of the recommendation or instruction of the relevant authorities. Only these authorities have all the necessary information and expertise to draw the right conclusions. Torn between the wellbeing of all participants and the economic consequences, the authorities had to make a difficult decision. The responsible public health authority of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf of Berlin had greatly increased the requirements for holding the event.

What has the general feedback been like from exhibitors and would-be attendees?
As far-reaching as the consequences were for visitors and above all for exhibitors – there was widespread sympathy for the decision. This is totally out of the ordinary. Nothing like this has ever happened before in the history of ITB Berlin. The reactions we received were mainly positive.

Following the show’s cancellation, the ITB team expanded the functions of ITB.com at short notice

You have countered some of the negative effects of the show’s cancellation with the launch of ITB.com – a new platform for industry communications. What was the thinking behind this, and what do you hope to achieve thanks to this site?
ITB has been a global brand for some time now, and with ITB.com it has acquired a digital platform. This allows us to channel the communications of all four trade shows. This is where the global ITB family can come together and meet again, where they can network on the 350 days in a year when ITB is not taking place somewhere in the world.

Can you tell us more about the individual elements of ITB.com and how people can benefit from these?
ITB.com spans a bridge between real-life meetings and digital networking and features innovative options for three areas: networking, virtual conferences and industry news. With the help of AI, users are recommended contacts that match their profile and search options. This tool is a digital extension of the event. It allows trade visitors to make better preparations ahead of the show and target the contacts they want to meet.

The launch of the website was originally planned as a highlight at the opening of this year’s ITB. Following the show’s cancellation, the ITB team expanded the functions of ITB.com at short notice. Over the weekend, the idea came up to use ITB.com to at least make holding a virtual ITB Convention possible. The ITB Virtual Convention has now been on air since last Thursday at 1 pm. At over 25 forward-looking events, more than 35 international speakers from ITB are discussing how the world’s travel industry can harness intelligent strategies to make sure it remains future-proof even in a challenging environment. From 5 to 11 March 2020 viewers have been able to follow exclusive live streams, in German and partly in English, in real time on itb.com. Afterwards, they are being made available as videos on demand.

ITB.com spans a bridge between real-life meetings and digital networking

The ITB team was also able to set up “Virtual Rooms”, which were originally scheduled for a later date. This is where up to four participants can have a conversation via a video call. It means lots of tourism professionals can still hold the meetings they had previously planned for ITB.

Do you have plans for the site to evolve or grow?
We want to continually expand the services on the website and make it a leading platform in line with our three USPs: contacts, content and commerce. Through it we want to become the world’s leading platform for the industry – not just during the actual trade shows, but digitally for 365 days a year.

What has the feedback been so far about the site?
The feedback to date has been very positive. Over 2,200 users registered during the first few hours after the launch of ITB.com was announced. The live streams from the Virtual ITB Convention have been followed by 1,000 viewers per session. Currently more than 3,400 meetings have been arranged over the Travel Network, with 13,300 recommendations having led to a connection and with more than 4,300 messages being sent. Even in our “peoples’ business”, this shows how important it is to augment our industry platform with a strong digital component.

What is your personal message to those affected by the cancellation of ITB Berlin?
Despite this unprecedented situation in 2020 we would like to stress how important the trade show is conceptually for our industry in the future. Naturally, we are able to mirror individual aspects digitally to a certain degree. However, the travel industry depends on face-to-face meetings like no other. We therefore look forward to welcoming the world again in the customary manner in Berlin in 2021.

Photo: David Ruetz, head of ITB Berlin