A gal has to have fun, fun, fun.. and the Langham stand at Berlin’s mighty ITB made everyone smile. Frankly ITB is a bunfight without the buns, a zoo with only two-legged animals, and it is no reason to come to the glorious German capital as most never have time to see anything other than the inside of the exhibition halls.
You see’em, all the top travel people in the world, waiting for 0900 busses from their hotels to take them to the exhibition. You see’em, still the top travel people but looking exhausted, staggering back in around 1800, and the evening events have yet to start.
But ITB is essential, and if you do not go – and you consider yourself one of those top travel people – you need to read about it. I therefore headed off, on your behalf.
First I needed to fuel my determination, and a simple plate of homemade ravioli swimming in a foam sauce with truffle bits on top did the trick. I was in Quarré, at the divine Adlon, and Franck Droin was recounting the joys of opening a luxury hotel in Djibouti. Djibouti? Yes, there was a meeting of African quangos and they needed a hotel opened in just seven months.
The Dubai-based company Nakheel got to work, got it up, handed it over to Kempinski four days before the conference started. Lots of top brass of Kempinski flew in to be waiters, sommeliers (well, probably not, must have been an alcohol-free event) and maids for all the quango-ers.
Djibouti is not yet on the must-see travel list. There are plenty of places more pressing right now. Heading for ITB you would think the world is rushing, en masse, to Egypt. Massive hoardings for Aswan, El Gouna, Hurghada, Luxor (every destination other than Cairo) are plastered on subway stations and around and within ITB itself.
This is one clever way to attract attention, and thus tourism business. India, Malaysia and Turks & Caicos have been doing it for years, as has Istanbul, coupled with Turkish Airlines – the best European airline, according to SkyTrax.
Once at the show, you put your pre-printed entry pass into a plastic holder provided, attach same to a free cord, go through the sensor and you are free to wander. Hall Nine is the core for luxury hotels.
At Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, Yves Wencker, who will open Taj Palace Marrakech – which the gal visited during Michael Patrick King’s shooting of Sex and the City there – was among those holding court. At the Leading stand, CEO Ted Teng beamed.
Cleverly, he is basing himself in London for the next month, to boost European business. The boss of his former company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, temporarily relocated to China last year, and resulting Chinese activity went up like a rocket which has not yet come down.
To put yourself in the forefront of the attention of the world’s travel providers you need a good Minister of Tourism. If you cannot have that, get a – any – Minister of Tourism. The USA does not have a Minister at all. The UK’s Minister, who changes as often as you get sunny days in London, shares a portfolio with culture, sport, antiquities, anything that does not constitute ‘a proper job’.
At the One&Only stand at ITB, Mark Hehir, GM of One&Only Reethi Rah, said he had the new Minister of Tourism for the Maldives over to dinner last week and the new guy is really impressive. He is determined to go for quality rather than quantity of tourists, and he stresses the value of luxury resorts.
Watch all those Maldives resorts soar even further. The only potential political upset would be inconvenience at Male airport as who in their right minds stops off in Male rather than flying or boating straight on to their luxury resort?
There were some colourful blobs on the ITB landscape. The Sixt stand went on for ever, showing how many bright orange colour swabs one can think of. Fresh from owner Regina Sixt’s hosting last night’s party featuring septuagenarian singing-boy Cliff Richard, today it was all work. A girl in bright orange uniform and hat handed out popcorn in orange plastic bags. A mini, number plate SIXT, had orange swirls, stood on a floor with orange swirls, and so on.
Some stands did try to stand out. The city of Berlin’s expensive construction rose up into a bridge that straddled the entire entrance way of one hall. There were people in costume, on stilts, people singing and wearing lederhosen.
I am sure, in other halls geographically themed for, say, South Pacific, lovely ladies waddled in grass skirts. Back in Hall Nine one that dared to be different showed a work in progress.
Half the stand was behind a wire net (was one supposed to meet behind it?), a cement barrow stood in front and, behind, a mobile shepherd’s hut was decorated with a Mona Lisa. The problem is that I cannot remember whose stand it was… And I was not going back, even for the exercise it would have offered.
For the first time, online travel agents, the dreaded OTAs that a prominent hotelier, Ricco de Blank, had verbally attacked only two days ago at the big industry investment conference, made their presence felt in Hall Nine. What was Groupon doing here, surrounded by luxury hotel companies?
At the same conference, the marvellously-named, and coiffeured, Ait Voncke, he who heads travel for Groupon in France, says that although this division is less than a year old, in France there is a staggering 12-million strong database.
When it comes to travel it is not only selling rooms but experiences, which means, lifestyle-speak, that Groupon knows where you went for a winter holiday, what you bought for a Valentine’s gift and can now offer a suitable summer get-away in a variety of luxury hotels. At this piece of erudition, the gal gave up.
Her cameo appearance at ITB over, she breathed a sigh of relief and rushed back to her own luxury-home-this-week, the one-and-only Adlon Kempinski.