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ITB Berlin 2020 cancelled, but A Luxury Travel Blog appointments still go on!

Every year, for the past 54 years, ITB Berlin (Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin) – a major event in the travel industry calendar – takes place at exhibition grounds in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district of Berlin, at a venue called Messe Berlin. The event has grown to be the biggest travel fair in the world, with around 10,000 exhibitors and over 100,000 trade visitors each year, as well as many visitors from the public. This year, it was looking like the event would continue as usual but, at the eleventh hour, the decision was made to cancel the show for the first time in its history due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. This has generated quite a mixed response. Many people don’t agree with the decision, feeling that it is due to hysteria stirred up by the media and that it sends out the wrong message. In truth, you can see how it is difficult to sell holidays if it is perceived that people in the industry are seemingly not prepared to travel themselves (even if they are). Others feel that it is the right decision and that bringing over 100,000 people together from all around the world, all inter-mingling for a week, and them then travelling back to their respective nations, is a risk that’s too big to take. Although I was due to attend – and was planning to go – a part of me feels it was probably the responsible thing to do. If there was an outbreak linked to the event, the consequences globally could be very serious and the organisers would no doubt be hung, drawn and quartered for having proceed so recklessly. The unfortunate thing was the timing of the decision. All week, the organisers had been insistent that the event was still going ahead. Yesterday morning, they changed their tune slightly, saying “Messe Berlin GmbH is currently coordinating with the public authorities at federal and state level on how to proceed with regard to ITB Berlin 2020 and COVID-19. It is expected that more detailed information will be available in the evening of 28 February 2020 at the earliest. We will inform you as soon as we have new information.” Even at this point, it still wasn’t clear that they were going to cancel (although I had suspected it) and this didn’t come to light until well into Friday evening, well after usual close of business in Europe. By then, many people had already begun their travels, exhibition stand builders (some with teams that are tens of people strong) had already been hard at work for some time, and so on. With the benefit of hindsight, if the event was to be cancelled, I think it needed to happen much earlier. Instead, the message that had gone out was one of ‘business as usual’. Rather unfortunate, I suppose, though, was the timing and uncertainly of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe. At first, it seemed confined to just northern Italy but the picture was changing on a daily basis. Events such as he SIHH Geneva watch fair, on the other hand – which doesn’t take place until the end of April – was cancelled earlier in the week. I have personally been very fortunate because the owners of the accommodation I booked have agreed to defer my booking to next year’s event (which will be held 10-14 March 2021) which they were by no means obliged to do. I had booked my outgoing flight with a budget airline and had yet to book my return flight as I would be flying back to a different airport and some of my travel logistics were yet to be finalised, so my personal loss is negligible. For others, though, it will be a very different picture. Of course, like most people attending, I also had many meetings lined up so next week I am planning to meet as many of those people as possible through online appointments. If you are someone who was going to meet with me (or even if you are not, but would like to learn more about how A Luxury Travel Blog can help your business), please feel free to book an online appointment via https://calendly.com/paulhjohnson/altb In the meantime, we welcome your comments on whether you agree or disagree with the decision to cancel the event, or if you simply want to share your own personal story on how it has affected you. Whatever your involvement, we would love to hear from you!

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. This was a huge shame on ITB .. I’m 100% with you, how can you sell destinations when you personally cant go yourself

    Corona Virus is a huge medium threat, however l, we use the train stations every day with lots and lots of foreigners from all over the world.. isn’t it a threat of Corona.

    It is all a political theory and unfortunately you got tricked

    1. I feel for you, Hanan… for other readers who don’t know, Hanan has been involved in the assembly of 11 different exhbition stands at ITB, many of which were well underway. And we’re not talking small stands here. These are usually pretty big projects.

  2. With the number of countries now with people suffering from the virus it does seem that it is spreading rapidly. Though that is maybe a sign of hope. Perhaps we can get through the worst quickly. China seems to be over the worst and heading back to normal. I would like to think that within a few months people will begin to think about travelling as usual. People are very resilient whatever the crisis happens to be.

    1. I keep hearing that China is over the worst of it, but is that really true? There were 573 new confirmed coronavirus cases in mainland China just yesterday.

  3. The right decision in my books but I do feel the decision was left too late. We as an industry have faced challenges before and will face them again but I do feel that the risk in this case was simply too high. With people flying in from all corners of the globe, I know I personally would have never forgiven myself had I picked up COVID-19 at the show and infected by family, colleagues or elderly parents. We’ve lost far less than others financially as we were not exhibiting and I know many of our industry colleagues will take a big hit. Now is the time to work together and pull our industry out of this mess as soon as we can.

    1. Agree with everything you say, Neil… I see so many people saying things like “I don’t care if I get ill – I’m fit and healthy” but this is quite a selfish attitude. It’s not just about the effect it has on you personally, but the implications that it may have for others close to you who may be elderly or have other potential underlying conditions.

    2. I absolutely agree with Neil Baines and couldn’t have said it better. Of course my main concern would be an outbreak in South Africa. So far we don’t have any reported infections. Hold thumbs!

  4. I think it was the right decision. One of the biggest challenges with Coronavirus is its rapid spreading capabilities. Just look at what happened with the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan. There was a “quarantine” and after it basically failed, two-thirds of the cases in the U.S. of Cornavirus are people who were on that cruise ship. It probably wasn’t an easy decision to cancel a major travel conference but it’s better to be preventative than to be sorry if it’s too late…

  5. It’s a shame for you and everyone else preparing to go but I’d agree, it’s the responsible thing to do. A lot of big international events are being cancelled. It makes sense when you think there will be a huge group of people gathering from all over, then going back to their respective countries with little idea as to whether anyone may be infected. It makes me wonder about the Olympics. But with that, quite like the ITB event, there’s been so much money and preparation involved that it can’t be an easy decision to make to be cancelling such things. I guess they don’t want to do it early just in case there’s the slightest chance they might be able to avoid cancelling, even if to the rest of us it seems like they’re just delaying the inevitable.

    I’m glad your accommodation was able to be deferred for the 2021 event, that’s very kind of them. I imagine there’s a lot of people with plans up the air this year now, so hopefully there’s a little compassion and flexibility because it’s not going to be an easy time at all.

    1. I have got off very lightly indeed. I’m being told my travel insurance wouldn’t have covered me because there is no government directive prohibiting all travel to Berlin as a result of the coronavirus, regardless of the event being cancelled. So my loss is just one flight – nothing compared to the tens of thousands of dollars/euros being invested by others – which of course is very difficult to swallow when there’s already a sharp downturn being suffered by the industry as a whole.

      I think there are serious doubts surrounding the Olympics at the present time. The Japan Sumo Association has already declared that its spring tournament, due to start next week, will not be taking place.

    2. I had wondered about insurance with Coronavirus, especially in the instance of no government directive as you say. They’ll just say it’s unfortunate that it’s been cancelled, so tough luck. Oh dear, I do feel for those who’ve lost out to much not just with this event but with lots that have been and are likely to be cancelled in future. I’ve read the odds on the Olympics going ahead have been slashed. Considering the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were postponed. All that work to get enough accommodation ready, to get everything in place, visitors booking their time off work and paying for transport and hotels… It’s better to be safe than sorry and more probably needs to be done to contain the virus and prevent mass spreading but still, it’s a huge blow for the industry and visitors and tourists.

  6. We exhibited last year and dit it regulary since 2007. But that year we bought a booth on Balttour and haven’t thought about Berlin.
    But I sympathize very much to all who planned to go to ITB.

    1. Hi Helena

      Thanks for dropping by to comment. I think for many ITB remains a major event in the travel industry calendar. Glad to hear you have escaped being effected this time, though!


  7. Crisis always brings change and prompts human ingenuity. It is encouraging to see that you are going to use technology for a business as usual approach. I’m sure that these travel conferences are the best way of developing relationships through face to face contact but maybe we could cut air travel emissions with more video conferencing etc? Very pleasing to see how far air pollution has reduced recently as China has cut back in production, the improvement is visible on satellite pictures. Some people have asked whether there would have been a lower death rate in China if the population’s lungs hadn’t been damaged by poor air quality.

    1. You raise a number of very interesting points there, Graham. Whislt I would personally be happy to conduct all my meetings online, I think many still prefer those more personal, face-to-face (literally, not just virtually) interactions.

      As for the air pollution in China, I had seen that in the news also. I guess to assess whether the death rate would have been different might require us to look at mortality rates in different countries. I had heard that it was thought that Chinese people were genetically more pre-disposed to this virus, but I’m not sure if there’s any truth in that. I would imagine it’s too early for us to know too much about it all if we are not yet certain on things like the exact source, precisely how it is transmitted and other details like that.

  8. it’s a shame the way the ITB treats exhibitors

    We lost money and time in this event, money that we will not recover.

    We are not Tui or Emirates with unlimited budgets

    Im thinking about my collegues other DMC who lost much more than us.

    As the only answer l itb refers us to section 9.1

    today while i open their page on twitter, i see that the ITB has retwiter from berlin travel festival “coronavirus is an asshole”

    it is shameful to continue to bring this media paranoia to life.

    the true “asshole” these are the people who we trusted to organise the biggest tourism event on earth , the people who mismanaged this crisis, the people who threw descredit on our industry, people who keep fueling this paranoia, people who keep us waiting weeks before canceling the event in a friday night while most of us where already flying overseas.

    they are the true “asshole” not the “corona virus”.

    1. Hello Amine

      I’m sorry to hear about your and your colleague’s financial loss with the cancellation of ITB Berlin.

      Whilst I fully sympathise and agree with a lot of what you say (ie. that it was called off too late), I am not sure that I fully agree with the statement “it is shameful to continue to bring this media paranoia to life.”

      Sure, I agree that the media do not help matters and do sensationalise things a lot, but I still think it’s probably responsible for the health of ourselves and others – particularly for the sake of those more vulnerable than ourselves – for ITB Berlin to have regrettably been cancelled. It just needed to be called much sooner which, with the benefit of hindsight, probably wasn’t easy to do as the situation was changing on a daily basis in the run up to the event.

      Out of the 170,000 (or wheatever the figure is) people who attend ITB Berlin, I think there would be a high probability that at least one of the those people could have been carrying the virus. The ease with which that could have then spread to all corners of the globe doesn’t bear thinking about IMHO.

      Kind regards


  9. I am of the view that this was the right call. As your operator who even received several cancellations due to covid-19 outbreak. I can understand the safety measures taken. There is always 2021 kudos to the decision makers of ITB.

    1. Yes, I think so…. even the Berlin Travel Festival – which they said would go on – is now cancelled. Apparently someone who works in the co-working space for the organisers of the Berlin Travel Festival and Travel Massive Forum was ill on the weekend and tested positive.

  10. A few days have past now. Days, in which everyone tried to connect with his partners or potential new clients online, by Skype, phone, mail or however. Busy days for everybody.

    In addition, it came up, that such scenery obviously never has been planned or discussed by ITB Berlin. There was no emergency plan. Exihitors and visitors did not know if they get their rental costs for the booths refounded, even refunding of the tickets was not clear. At least this shoould be cleared now, but how about flights and hotels which have to cancelled last minute?!? Most will have lost their money at least for flights and hotels, there’s no other solution from part of the ITB. Not even an invitation for a free ticket for next ITB as a symbolic compensation and as a symbol of goodwill. Disgusting attitude of hotels and airlines in my opinion. Currently we all have losses, but between us, being in tourism, we should not increase the losses.

    For me personally, being German, that’s really embarassing and I feel very sorry for all exibitors and visitors, especially for those from abroad. Under the line I just lost the money for my flights, which I booked at a good rate. The hotel thanks god I was able to cancel for free due to the rate I booked. For sure I will book it for next year again.

    But I don’t like the way how visitors from abroad are treated here in such exceptional situation. That’s not a standard situation, it has to be handeled with care and heart. Especially, as last year due to the bankrupcy of Thomas Cook uncountable hoteliers have shown big hospitality to the affected guests, have let them stay in their hotels and still today they are waiting for payment. If they ever will get it – you never know…

  11. It really is a pity about the airshow. Berlin is one of my favourite cities and I was all booked to go! Right decision in my books – even as I write this things are still not quite back to normal. I guess we will just have to look forward to future travel fairs – with even more excitement.

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