Camaleonte on the Go: Four take-home messages from the world’s largest travel fair

In the beginning of March I attended the world’s largest travel trade fair, the ITB 2019 in Berlin. With its whopping 113,500 visitors, more than 10,000 companies and organizations from 186 countries and regions it was well worth the visit. No other travel fair, with the exception of the
World Travel Market organized each November in London, can equal to the number of business meetings, casual encounters, panel discussions and events that take place every year in Berlin. In a sea of exhibitors and parallel programs spanning from medical tourism to the use of digital tools and virtual reality, it was impossible to make it to everywhere. I focused on trends, responsible and sustainable travel, and luxury. Here are my four take-home messages from this year’s ITB:

1) Despite the slowing down of global economy, international tourism continues to boom

In 2018, international travel and tourism reached its all-time high, with 1.4 billion (!!) outbound trips and a growth percentage of 5,5%. According to data from the IPK International World Travel Monitor® presented by Rolf Freitag, tourism continues to be key driver of the global economy. Sun and beach, on one hand, and city trips, on the other hand, account for two thirds of the types of outbound holidays in 2018.  Despite the increase in “para-hotellerie” (Airbnb and similar), hotels still cater to 60% of tourists. Guests are now seeking more high-end, four to five-star options, with the budget hotel sector in sharp fall. However, growing environmental awareness especially related to flight emissions, fear of terrorism and experiences of overtourism are affecting customer behavior and can alter trends rapidly.

2) Overtourism is a serious concern that reflects inadequate management

With recent news and terrifying photos from crowded destinations, managing overtourism was one of the hottest topics at ITB. In 2018, almost one third of the interviewees of the World Travel Monitor agreed that their destination was overcrowded with tourists, with 12 % of all international travelers stating that destination overcrowding “destroyed their holiday experience”. Even though Venice, Amsterdam and Barcelona have made it to the headlines, severe overtourism is experienced also in Asian destinations from Phuket to Siem Reap and Taj Mahal. Destination managers and tourism boards in the most popular countries are struggling to find ways to promote secondary cities and sites, use digital tools to timely manage tourist hordes, establish entry fees and taxes and limit, or even shut down, most popular sites. Dubrovnik, a city of 40,000 inhabitants that receives 2 million tourists every year, has done a lot with cruise companies to manage the entrance of one-day visitors to the Old Town. More has to be done, and concrete ways to tackle crowds go hand-in-hand with the principles of sustainable and responsible tourism.

3) Consumer sentiment is growing for sustainable and responsible travel

At the ITB Responsible travel exhibitors were placed together with Adventure tourism, in a separate hall from the destinations and hospitality exhibitors. This reflects a rather antiquated thinking, as if sustainable and responsible travel were to interest just a few hippies wanting to lodge in a mosquito-ridden swamp and zipline all day. Sustainability should be default in all travel and tourism-related ventures, even if the specificity and depth of each concrete effort might differ. Only few “traditional” destinations and hotels highlighted sustainable and responsible business practices in their marketing efforts.

The positive thing, though, was that in my talks with students and millennials working in the industry, sustainability issues popped up frequently. All panel discussions and CEO interviews included questions from the public, and many of these called for integrity and company ethics. Global travel and hospitality industries might be slow to change, but the wave is swelling with new generations already leading this change. Even if not all tourists are yet prioritizing sustainability as one of their travel criteria, there is definitively a growing sentiment and interest. Smart industry players are acting ahead of the curve.

4) New luxury highlights meaningful, authentic and responsible experiences

Another fascinating theme that surfaced repeatedly at the ITB was the link between new luxury and sustainability. According to industry experts such as Marc Aeberhardt people at the top-tier have abandoned the golden jacuzzi and other tangibles and are now looking to reconnect with themselves. This brings us to silence and space, slow travel, digital detox, stress-free time with family and friends, and nature experiences that money cannot buy. Visitors ask how they can engage with and give back to host communities. Moreover, they expect responsible manners from their hoteliers and tour operators; Nobody wants to be considered as the one who supports modern slavery or wildlife exploitation! Targeting the new luxury customers brings new business opportunities for purpose-driven entrepreneurs, a trend we’re currently experiencing in the Nordics.

These were my take-home messages, how about yours?


Camaleonte Oy/ Maija Peltola