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7 Feb, 2013

11 Reasons Why I Am Giving the 2013 ITB Berlin a Miss

The ITB Berlin is the world’s largest travel trade show. I did not miss a single one between 1986-2011, a total of 25 years. It played a very important role in helping me advance my career and professional coverage of the world’s largest service industry. As of 2012, however, I stopped attending it, as well as the WTM London. I will not be at the March 2013 show either. Here are 11 reasons why:

1. Being in the information business, I do not buy or sell travel products and services but the information related to keeping travel industry practitioners informed about issues and trends that impact on their business. The ITB was once the only place where I could get such information on global travel & trends. Today, that does not apply.

2. The German outbound market is no longer as important as it once was. The economy has tanked, the giant German tour operators are losing influence. Industry creativity is no longer the domain of the global travel shows.

3. It’s getting very expensive. Messe Berlin has in the past generously provided me partial hosting facilities, for which I will always be grateful, but the overall package still costs far too much in relation to the diminishing returns, as outlined below.

4. Door to door, the show takes up a minimum six days worth of direct time, and at least one day more to overcome exhaustion. The value I get for the time involved is fading. The show is getting too big with an overload of seminars, press conferences and events. It’s simply impossible to do more than a few a day, especially in view of the time consumed in commuting between them. In any case, most of the media information is later posted on the respective organisers’ websites. In future, much of it will also be live telecast. As technology has ruined the luxury of time and distance, I often land up simultaneously dealing with office issues back home. Due to the eight-hour time difference with Bangkok, this means I don’t get much sleep. That worsens the exhaustion-factor and reduces my effectiveness.

5. Most of my old friends and contacts are gone. The rest are going. Newcomers have only enough time to spend in direct proportion to the business value they see. I hate it when people are talking to me even while constantly looking over my shoulder to see if they can spot someone more financially useful. I do meet a few new people, but I am not sure they will be of any importance to me in the remaining few years of my professional career. Building long-term relationships is no longer as important as it once was.

6. Asian travel shows are getting better, and the world is beating a path to our doorstep. In the last few weeks, I have attended SATTE, an upcoming Indian travel show, and the ASEAN Tourism Forum. Both were closer to home, fully-hosted, well-attended with quality delegates and provided excellent returns on time.

7. One of my main focus is the small and medium-sized enterprises. Small is beautiful. SME company executives can be interviewed much more effectively at regional and local trade shows. Their executives are happy to spend time with me. They are also more creative, sincere and need the promotional coverage, which I am happy to provide. I am bored of the pre-packaged, spin-doctored party lines coming out of the globalised groups.

8. The seminars do not contain the intellectual value I crave. Most focus on the same old issue of how to generate more and more and more and more growth — doing business, changing technologies, sustainability. Same old stuff everywhere. Clonalisation and saturation are setting in. New agendas are badly needed. Creating growth is no longer important, managing it is. Creating jobs is no longer important, preserving them is. Industry groupings are not yet prepared to challenge conventional wisdoms and seek accountability for the real underlying problems, issues and challenges facing the world and, by extension, the travel & tourism industry, e.g., geopolitical disturbances, insecurities of a globalised world, the rise of the Asian Century, the failure of Western democracies and economic models, the reform of global institutions, etc. This is true of all travel trade shows. Some discussion is emerging on the fringes but it is a long way from being mainstreamed.

9. Travel industry leaders are not showing courageous leadership. Good leadership is about doing what’s right and what’s best for the constituents, without fear or favour. Often this means going against the grain and being politically incorrect. The realities of realpolitik forces travel industry leaders to shy away from providing space for alternative thinking and constructive criticism. Paradoxically, this is one reason why global travel organisations and groupings are losing relevance. In the 1980s and 90s, they excelled at what they did, viz., pursuing an agenda to create and boost industry growth. Today, they are becoming victims of their own success and proving less effective in reinventing themselves to deal with its negative-cum-positive consequences. Organisations such as UFTAA, IH&RA and PATA once had a high profile at ITB Berlin. No more.

10. My Schengen visa has expired. As a matter of principle, I refuse to apply for a new one. Although I hold a 10-year visa for the UK and a five-year visa for Australia, the German embassy does not give me more than a two-year visa. Yes, it IS an issue of principle. German citizens can come to Thailand free of charge and free of visas. They include paedophiles, neo-Nazis and various other undesirables. Thai citizens, on the other hand have to fill out forms, answer questions and pay huge visa fees for the privilege of visiting Europe. But times they are a-changing. If Germans want Asians to visit Germany and/or Europe, they had better start showing us some respect and changing their policies and procedures to make it as easy for us to visit their country as it is for them to visit ours. The days of the one-way street are dying rapidly.

11. I have intense dislike for cold weather. And as I do not drink, I have no use for attending the plethora of evening parties just to get free alcohol.