Most tweets support ITB Berlin’s decision to cancel

BERLIN, 2 March 2020, A flurry of tweets on the ITB Berlin Twitter account appeared to support the decision to cancel the show even though some exhibitors said they had to fly back to their home countries just hours after arriving in Germany.

See the Q & A with ITB Berlin’s PR manager, Julia Sonnemann, at the close of this report for official responses to questions posted by TTR Weekly Sunday.

ITB Berlin announced it was cancelling the show at 1827 on Friday evening, the first-ever cancellation of the trade fair in its 54-year history. It said the decision was made on the advice of federal and city health authorities.

One tweet supported ITB Berlin’s decision but suggested it should have done so much earlier.

“I truly believe that this should have been decided earlier. Not everyone lives in Europe… I have travelled 24 hs and just landed in Berlin for absolutely NOTHING now… the time, logistic and money invested by my company are quite big, and it is very unfair because now it is lost.”

ITB Berlin reached out in response: “We really understand your disappointment. The Federal Ministry of Health & the Federal Ministry of Economics of Germany decided to cancel ITB Berlin. Messe Berlin was unable to implement the conditions imposed by the responsible Berlin health authority.

A repeated theme of the ITB Berlin’s responses to exhibitor tweets touched on this outside pressure.

“We really understand your disappointment. The Federal Ministry of Health & the Federal Ministry of Economics of Germany decided to cancel ITB Berlin. Messe Berlin was unable to implement the conditions imposed by the responsible Berlin health authority.

Another twitter response from ITB Berlin said: “Only these authorities have all the necessary information and expertise to draw the right conclusions. The responsible public health authority of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf of Berlin had greatly increased the requirements for holding the event in the early evening.”

While many tweets lamented the inconvenience of the last minute notice and the financial losses to their companies, they largely agreed ITB Berlin had made the right decision.

One commented: “It was a most sensible decision. This is a most unusual situation, and we must deal with it sensibly. Thank you for protecting the industry.”

But their tweets and the responses from ITB Berlin underscored the mammoth task ahead weeding through the agreements to assess requests for refunds.

One ITB Berlin response said: “Due to the short notice of cancellation and the large number of exhibitors, we ask for your understanding that we will check these questions internally. This can take from 10 days to two weeks.

What has emerged so far is the relative ease of securing an airline refund or rebooking flights home. Many of the tweeters mentioned they were able to abort the trip and fly back home in a matter of hours.

However, there was growing concern that hotels in Berlin might not be so generous and securing refunds of say 90% could fade fast as Berlin accommodation providers, many of which are bed and breakfast guest houses, face a crisis. Their best week of the year has just turned upside down, and they might oppose moves to offer full or even partial refunds.

Some tweets suggested exhibitors would quickly lose their patience with ITB Berlin if the questions over refunds are not resolved quickly.

One said: “You’ve met the whole day yesterday and are still not able to provide detailed answers and solutions for those who were kept in the dark until yesterday at 8 pm? you better waive all cxl’s or give credits for ITB2021.”

Another pleaded: “We need to know if hotels in Berlin will forgo our bookings and not impose such hefty cancellations fee, which was 90% of the room rate.”

Overall, most exhibitors bothering to tweet supported ITB Berlin decision to cancel.

“Many events across the world have been cancelled over the last couple of months, including the mobile world congress in Barcelona, a global signature event. We all understand. Safety and humanity come first- before profits. There shall be enough time to recover. No worries.”

In Asia, comments were more tetchy. On Facebook, a leading Asian tour operator Luzi Matzig said:  “I do not think that it was the right decision! If we – the leaders in tourism – do no longer travel because of exaggerated fears of getting the virus – we are setting a bad example for potential tourist whom we want to visit our countries!”

TTR Weekly filed questions with leading Asian tourism and hospitality providers attending the show at the weekend.

The Pacific Asia Travel Association’s CEO and president, Mario Hardy, said the impact had been minimal on the association.

“We did not have a stand at the event. We were supposed to host a seminar and lunch, but the cost is covered by ITB as part of our partnership.

“We had one staff travelling from London, three from Bangkok, including myself. We cancelled our hotel bookings without incurring any cost. We’ve managed to get a partial refund for our flights. In short, the cost impact was minimal for PATA.

“However; I understand that it was not the same case for everyone as I know some people had already flown to Berlin and others who had venue bookings for side events were not able to get their money back yet or only partially.”

Likewise, the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office enjoyed a show subsidy. Its executive director Jens Thraenhart said: “We don’t have a booth at ITB, and our session (room and catering) was sponsored by ITB. so we are lucky; no financial loss.”

A terse reply from Asian Trails CEO Laurent Kuenzle, who is presently in Berlin stated: “I can’t comment at this stage, we have not heard from ITB nor most suppliers. Besides ITB we always do sales calls to our key European clients at this time of the year, and we will continue to do that. By next week we will know more.”

 Q& A with ITB Berlin’s Julia Sonnemann 

Could you add some clarity on the subject of refunds and the policy adopted by ITB Berlin?

“Neither Messe Berlin GmbH nor the exhibitors/ visitors are responsible for the cancellation of the event. With regard to the costs, a distinction will be made between stand rentals/admission tickets on the one hand and other costs on the other.

“The General Terms and Conditions for Trade Fairs and Exhibitions of Messe Berlin GmbH apply, in particular Section 9.1. page 19:

“Due to the timing of the cancellation, we ask for understanding that all detailed questions regarding ITB Berlin and its subsidiaries must first be checked. We will inform all our customers immediately as soon as new information becomes available.”

What do you estimate is the damage cost to Messe Berlin from the cancellation?

“We are expecting considerable damage altogether, not only for us as a trade fair company, but also for Berlin and the entire travel industry.”

Do you have any feedback on whether Berlin hotels are providing refunds on accommodation booked or deferring the payment to next year? 

“We ask our customers to get in touch with their hotel or airline regarding further statements on their individual request.”

The statement from ITB Berlin called it a cancellation. That suggests the ITB will not be rescheduled to later in the year. It will skip to dates in 2021?

“Of course we have considered the option of postponing ITB Berlin 2020 to another date this year. The Berlin Exhibition Grounds are among the most booked fairgrounds in Germany. For an event as big as ITB Berlin, with its 10,000 exhibitors from over 180 countries, there was simply no free slot left. 

“Furthermore, we have to bear in mind, how long it takes for the stands to be set up/ dismantled, which makes it very difficult, too.  As said before Messe Berlin’s tightly-timed calendar does not allow for any alternative dates.

“Last but not least, the annual date of ITB Berlin has been deliberately chosen because most of our participants conclude their business deals now or around the time of March since summer is the main travel season. Our focus is now on communication with our thousands of customers and service providers. Our focus is also on securing ITB’s leading global position in the long term.”