16 March 2018

What’s hot and what’s not at ITB 2018

If the figures at the recent ITB travel trade show in Berlin are anything to go by, it looks like 2018 is going to be a great year for the global tourism industry. Catch up on the key message and Amadeus’ hottest new technology revealed at ITB 2018.

Attracting over 110,000 visitors and 10,000 exhibitors from 186 countries to the German capital from March 7-11, visitors to the world’s leading travel trade show ITB were up by five percent this year.

Not surprisingly, there were plenty of newcomers from China including online portal Ctrip and other upcoming Chinese technology players like Ucloudlink (CloudSIM for mobile devices) and Qyer (one of China’s most popular travel websites).

Spreading the message of peace and goodwill

Visitors at ITB 2018Whereas security issues and awareness have cast a shadow over previous ITBs, this year the mood was upbeat with tourism being portrayed as a driver of peace. Jane Sun, CEO of Ctrip International, one of China’s leading travel service providers, said in her keynote that: “Travel connects people with places, experiences and memories, people meet different people through travel, experience different cultures and understand different values. Each traveler deepens their understanding of different cultures through their experiences.” According to Sun, it’s up to travel companies to make traveling easier and worry-free and, thus, help each traveler become an ambassador of their own cultural identity.

One reason given for the industry’s optimistic mood is the positive economic climate in the Eurozone. Dr. Christian Göke, CEO of Messe Berlin GmbH stated: “The consistent forecasts of sustained global economic growth for the next two years decisively contributed to the positive mood among exhibitors and visitors. Against the backdrop of a booming economy, record low employment and good wage settlements, more and more consumers are willing to spend money.”

But, he also warned, that the industry needs to be alert to the challenges it faces, namely digitalization and over-tourism.

Global tourism on an upward curve

Göke’s positivism was reiterated on March 7 by Rolf Freitag, CEO of IPK International, a tourism consultancy firm specialized in global outbound travel behavior.

According to IPK International, there were almost 1.2 billion outbound trips worldwide in 2017, an increase of 6.5%. Europe was the strongest source region for outbound and inbound international travel. The number of city trips booked in 2017 grew by 18% while sun and beach holidays increased by 9%. On the other hand, tour holidays worldwide decreased by 1%. The 2017 survey also showed that 24% of all international tourists felt that the destination they visited was overcrowded but only 9% said that the overcrowding affected the quality of their trip. The cities most affected by overcrowding, according to the survey, were Mexico, Shanghai, Venice, Beijing, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Florence and Barcelona.

Expectations remain high for 2018 with outbound travel figures for Latin America expected to increase by 7%, closely followed by Asia at 6% and Europe outbound travel expected to grow by 4%.

Keeping sustainable tourism in focus was this year’s official ITB partner, the German region of Mecklenberg-Vorpommern with the theme ‘The Spirit of Nature’. It was clear that luxury travel, medical tourism and gay & lesbian travel are growing market segments. Meanwhile, how to tackle the growing issue of over-tourism was the subject of many heated discussions.

Travel technology bigger than ever

PepperIt was crystal clear at ITB 2018 that travel technology is booming. In the eTravel World section – opened by Pepper the robot - the focus was on future-oriented issues like Blockchain (the software platform for all digital assets), social media and voice recognition.

Once confined to the Technology Area of the ITB fair, virtual reality and artificial intelligence was visible everywhere, with hotels and airlines actively using it to sell and emotionalize the customer experience.

Florian Storp, Vice President Central Europe, American Express Global Business Travel talked about digitalization becoming the business travel norm. “Artificial intelligence is very much on its way into the heart of the business travel industry. Chatbots, such as already being used by airline customer service centers, are just a start. In the future, we will see Alexa-like intelligences organizing complete business trips automatically, fully compliant to travel policies and guidelines, and taking into account the traveler’s preferences – as soon as an appointment is fixed in the electronic calendar. This opens up tremendous opportunities of efficiency, compliance and cost-savings.”

American Express GBT customer Nils Neuenhüsges, Head of Sourcing of Indirect Materials at Jungheinrich AG said “look at what the young people are doing now, and you can see how digitalization needs to perform on a business trip.”

Blockchain – and its impact on the industry – was discussed in many sessions with some viewing it as an opportunity, others as a disruptive emerging technology. Andriew Lim, Professor of Technopreneurship and Innovation at Hotelschool believes one of the challenges with Blockchain could be the economy of scale, just like the telephone network and internet in their infancy period, the cost of transactions is still high. 

As usual, Amadeus IT Group’s 180-square-meter stand – which presented Amadeus, Traveltainment and Travel Audience under one roof – was jam-packed, with all eyes on the Innovation Corner where visitors could get a sneak preview of the latest prototypes the Group is working on.

 Amadeus booth at ITB 2018

Amadeus reveals ‘hot’ new technology

There were long queues to test the new Navitaire Virtual Reality Booking prototype. Basically, you put on a pair of virtual reality goggles and are walked through the entire trip booking process – from choosing the flight route, stepping inside the airline cabin to choose your seats, looking inside your rental car options, taking a stroll around the destination and then seamlessly booking and paying with your credit card at the end.

“With this virtual reality booking solution we want to bring inspiration and the interface together. Not only is it an amazing emotional experience for the customer, it’s also designed to help travel agents upsell. When you step inside the airline cabin, or check out the car rental options, hopefully you can be tempted on the spot to upgrade,” says Kristian Schuhmacher, Chief Innovation Buddy, Amadeus Germany.

Navitaire VR

Smart baggage handling solution

Another attention-grabbing yet super-practical prototype on display was Blink – a smart solution to help airports and airlines with baggage handling, particularly with lost luggage which costs airlines a fortune each year and results in a deteriorated traveler experience.

“The agent scans the barcode using the Mixed Reality headset to load a plane, or retrieve missing baggage. The agent doesn’t have to manually sort through all the bags and is ‘hands-freed’, to handle bags more comfortably. Blink instantly identifies and locates bags,” says Julia Barry, Innovation Portfolio Evangelist at Amadeus.

In line with the voice recognition trend, Amadeus showed ALITA, a natural language processing prototype aimed at understanding the conversation between a traveler and the travel agent, so the travel agents can focus on their customers.

“ALITA listens and processes the conversation to look up customer profiles, inspire, personalize, recommend content, and finally book the trip. This innovation is not only about reducing the time spent but also making the whole experience of having a conversation with a travel agent an enjoyable one,” says Barry.

ITB – connecting people and places

For Sascha Nau, Head of Marketing for Amadeus in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and Traveltainment, ITB is like meeting friends and family as well as finding out the latest news from the travel industry.

“Everyone who comes to our booth is really interested in our technology and seeing how it can help them adapt to our changing digital world. They love our Innovation Corner and this year, they all want to know if we have a solution for Blockchain and when the Navitaire virtual reality booking solution will come on the market.”

Updated: 16 March, 2018