ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel trade show, kicked off last night (March 6) in Berlin with an opening ceremony featuring speeches from German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Secretary of the UN World Tourism Organization, Zurab Pololikashvili, among other dignitaries.
With more than 1.3 billion international tourism trips in 2017 – a record number, and 90 million more than in 2016 – sustainability and the power of tourism to contribute to international understanding were key themes throughout the evening’s remarks.
“Tourism thrives on openness to the world,” Merkel said through a translator. “Everyone active in that part of the economy has to be an ambassador for our country to the world. I hope that this ITB will help to reduce prejudices.”
“We live in turbulent times,” said Michael Frenzel, president of the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry, through a translator. “We need to make a contribution to ensure the world will not drift further apart. Who will do this if not us? Tourism is a peace industry, and we all work for it.”
The need to reduce tourism’s environmental impact was also front and centre. The ITB opening ceremony itself was for the first time climate neutral, with 1,400 trees planted in in Fleesensee, Germany, to offset the event’s carbon emissions.
“Tourism helps to open up economic perspectives,” Merkel said. “But we must always work towards principles of sustainability.”
“We need to decouple growth from resource use and put climate change on the front of our agenda,” said Pololikashvili. “Tourism brings enormous opportunities for development, but also many challenges.” He identified education, job creation, innovation and technology as ways to make tourism growth more sustainable.
Despite the challenges, “in most regions in the world, tourism has mainly positive effects,” Frenzel said.
“Again and again, people underestimate the contribution of this industry,” said Christian Göke, CEO of Messe Berlin. “Every tenth job in this world is directly related to travel and hospitality.”
With more than one million “face-to-face encounters” expected to take place over the next five days, people have come to ITB for the “amazing energy, the fireworks of ideas,” Göke said.
The opening ceremony program featured performing artists from the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the official partner region of ITB Berlin 2018 and presenting partner of the opening ceremony. Kristjan Järvi, director of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic Ensemble, directed the orchestra via live video link from Beijing, and DJ Felix Jaehn closed out the evening with an upbeat performance.
This morning (March 7), several of the dignitaries gathered again for an official ribbon cutting ceremony at the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern pavilion to open the trade show.
ITB Berlin runs through March 11 at the Messe Berlin fairgrounds, with 10,000 tourism companies representing 186 countries and regions. More than 100,000 international trade visitors are expected to attend.