Editorial: ITB Berlin 2018

‘China’ and ‘overtourism’ both feature heavily among key industry topics at ITB Berlin 2018

by Christopher Ledsham, M.A.

Last week saw the 2018 edition of the ITB Berlin trade fair take place between March 7th and 11th. Having been joined in more recent years by ITB Asia in Singapore and ITB China in Shanghai, it remains one of the key annual gatherings for industry actors from across the globe.

Among the numerous events at the fair’s convention, two key topics were prevalent among the discussions regarding the contemporary tourism industry; namely: China and overtourism.

The subject matter was addressed by a number of high profile figures over a wide range of events, including the ‘Tackling “Overtourism” At Destinations: Best Practice Solutions From Setting Quotas To Pricing To High Tech’ talk, which included World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) President & CEO Gloria Guevara Manzo, the ‘Overtourism: Status Quo, Measures, Best Practices From European Tourism Destinations’ panel, featuring president of the International Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST) Prof. Dr. Harald Pechlaner and a further presentation on the topic area by the Heide, Germany-based West Coast University of Applied Sciences.

Across the various events, many references were made to the fact that the UNWTO has forecast that the number of global international travellers will rise from 1.2 billion in 2017 to 1.8 billion in 2030. Nevertheless, one key element of this development was frequently overlooked: out of this 600 million additional international trips, at least 250 million will be made by Mainland Chinese citizens (in fact, COTRI forecasts suggest that the number of trips made by Chinese nationals will rise from 145 million in 2017 to 400 million by 2030). Furthermore, should we also count travellers from Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan, as well as overseas Chinese communities in countries such as Singapore, then at least half of the additional growth in this period will be coming from Chinese speakers.

From the discussions taking place among industry at the fair, it is clear that the focus of the debate has so far not yet shifted far beyond the question of how to influence travellers themselves and is yet to consider how to better engage with host communities in destinations under threat from the effects of overtourism. (COTRI Director Prof. Wolfgang Georg Arlt’s presentation on how Chinese outbound tourism can become part of the solution, as well as part of the problem is currently available on the COTRI website).

China-related topics were more directly addressed at a host of prominent events such as those hosted by the World Tourism Cities Federation (WTCF) and the ‘New Trends And Driving Forces For The Chinese Tourism Market’ panel, which featured representatives from visitBerlin and Helsinki Marketing, alongside Caissa Product Director Tony Jin and Ctrip’s Europe, Middle East & Africa General Manager Roger Qiu.

Notably, these two leading Chinese industry experts found themselves providing totally different answers to questions put to them during the event. For example, while Mr. Qiu was speaking of the importance of social media and the Ctrip platform for product marketing, emphasising the significance of providing Chinese travellers with the opportunity to book tickets and gain real-time destination information through their smartphones and drawing attention to the eagerness of Chinese ‘foodies’ to sample new flavours when overseas, Caissa’s Mr. Jin was conversely insisting that television was still the go-to marketing platform for the Chinese, while offering low prices was the key to attracting customers and that Chinese stomachs were not able to handle foreign food beyond tasting out of curiosity.

In short: both speakers were right, yet they were simply talking about two entirely separate customer profiles. While Caissa still focuses on serving the package tour-oriented Chinese mass market, Ctrip typically caters to more experienced FITs looking for deeper engagement with the destinations they visit. While a Ctrip customer will know that they want to try bouillabaisse in Marseille and bagna cauda in Turin, a traveller who books through Caissa would be more likely to be disappointed at once again not being served rice.

Lastly, a point of interest for readers of the COTRI Weekly; when asked how to go about preparing for the Chinese outbound market, panellist Ralf Ostendorf – Director of Market Management at visitBerlin – picked out COTRI’s Prof. Arlt from the front row of the crowd and told the audience to go directly to him, COTRI and to subscribe to the “must-read” COTRI Weekly!


Autumn Issue 2017


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