How fresh or flat is ITB Asia?

SINGAPORE, 17 October 2018: Now in its 11th edition, ITB Asia opens its doors this morning, spot-on at 0900, for three days of selling and buying in the region’s capital of commerce Singapore.

Over the three days, 17 to 19 October, more than a 11,000 people will converge on the exhibition hall and conference venues at the Marina Sands with the resolve to sign contracts, create new partnerships and have a good natter about travel and tourism.

ITB Asia is probably the most successful travel show in the region on a number of fronts, but undoubtedly the most praise goes to its extensive conference themes that unfold on the sidelines of the standard format trade show.

There is very little you can do to modify the trade show format and ITB Asia is no different than a host of others shows across the region in that regard. But it does have a pedigree earned largely by the mother-ship show, ITB Berlin, that has over decades garnered a vast pool of travel buyer contact.

Exhibitors pay a minimum of USD5,549 for a 9 sqm booth shell that comes with two chairs,  a bar stool, a small counter and chair as well as three spotlights burning 300 watts of energy. Last year, the show registered 940 exhibitors and 951 pre qualified buyers.

After spending probably close to USD8,000 to attend the three-day show including a regional airfare and accommodation, the travel content seller is guaranteed 33 business appointments (30 minutes each) over the three days. That’s USD242 spent every time the appointment bell signals the end of a discussion. Now multiply that by all the other trade shows that demand our attention and the bill for attending exhibitions could exceed USD60,000 a year. That doesn’t include the plethora of must-attend conferences aimed at travel executives.

Ultimately, trade shows are a commercial enterprise and as long as they turn a handsome profit, show owners are not going to down-size, or look for an alternative business model any time soon.

But they are facing the pinch from disruptive technology that will one day achieve enough traction to challenge the traditional face-to-face discussion in a 3×3 metre shell.

Ironically, ITB Asia is a leader in presenting the inroads of disruptive technology that impact on the travel industry through its conferences sessions with one single exception – the impact on trade shows long-term is not on the agenda.

ITB show data indicates that 75% of the  pre qualified 951 buyers reside in the Asia-Pacific region, while 64.3% of the exhibitors are living in the same region. It is not much of a stretch to surmise that that these two major groups attending ITB Asia actually meet up quite frequently at a string of similar shows across the region.

There are no independent audits, or research, to affirm the level of duplication in buyer lists between major international travel show in the Asia-Pacific.  Show owners jealously guard their lists.   Even a search of ITB branded shows in Berlin, Singapore and China fails to unearth if there is a high level of duplication between the three exhibitions.  Move to the more specialised shows of cruises, MICE and medical tourism and exhibitors face the prospect of meeting the same buyers over and over again.

Possibly the biggest commercial challenge facing ITB Asia, now in its 11th year, is the need to refresh its buyers list to ensure it can deliver enough new players to make it a worthwhile investment for travel content suppliers.

If it is proving difficult to source around 10% new players annually, the reboot alarm should sound in the show owner’s office — a ‘flatline’ could be imminent.