Virtual allows us to build ITB Community

Katrina Leung explains why ITB Asia is embracing a digital format as the meetings, incentive and travel industry undergoes unprecedented disruption

MIX: Has ITB noticed any tapering off from the presence of such exhibitors recently with the economic slump brought on by Covid? How has this been dealt with?

Katrina Leung: There will no doubt be some level of loss to the exhibition industry globally while we learn to navigate the effects of Covid-19; however, this is also an opportunity for us to review practices and adapt to ensure the continuity of the exhibition industry. With the pandemic accelerating the digitalisation of the industry, technology provides us a way to demonstrate our agility and ability to innovate.

ITB Community in Asia (ITB Community), being one of the first of its kind to be implemented in Asia’s travel industry, has seen an overwhelming positive response and engagement on the platform and we hope to welcome more users as the show draws closer.

We’re delighted to have more than 2,000 ITB Community Members using our exclusive platform, after just two weeks since our launch. ITB Community is a new, free-of-charge virtual space where travel buyers, sellers, media, and trade professionals alike can come together to access all of the latest information about the travel industry. The platform enables users to benefit from ITB Asia’s industry-renowned networking platform, in a virtual setting, as we navigate through the challenges of the current environment for events.

Why is it essential for the ITB Asia show to go on, albeit virtually, even as closed country borders remain as a dampener on travel?
As Asia’s leading travel trade show, we saw the need for the travel industry to band together with regulators and partners to strengthen confidence and build resilience during this extraordinary time. Many in the industry look to us to for direction as the industry gears towards recovery, so we undertook the responsibility to adapt and serve the travel trade community.

A key part of recovery will be the ability to come together and share best practices and high-quality content. We decided to go ahead with the annual show, albeit virtually, to allow for this to happen amongst the travel trade.

More… ITB Asia 2020 going virtual

We have had to rethink how we can ensure the continuity of our annual show. Taking this into consideration, going virtual was a way for us to continue to providing travel stakeholders a platform to connect – uniting and enabling business meetings to take place for a seamless knowledge exchange. By taking the show virtual, we are also hoping to set a good example of how digital disruption can benefit the industry and revolutionise travel.

Also, digitalisation is key in this process and we have leveraged on technology to draw people closer, albeit virtually, and see the continuation of ITB Asia in 2020. By taking the show virtual, we are also hoping to set a good example of how digital disruption can benefit the industry and revolutionise travel.   

How will the ITB Community in Asia virtual platform allow ITB Asia to continue engaging the travel industry – industry players, buyers, suppliers?
With ITB Community, we want to ensure that the virtual experience is as similar to the physical experience as our attendees have come to recognise. Despite challenges in travelling and gathering in numbers, the platform serves to mitigate these difficulties by bringing the networking opportunities online, as an avenue for engagement between buyers, suppliers, and industry players – where our global database of travel suppliers and buyers will still be able to continue business meetings as usual.

The upcoming Travel Meet Asia series of virtual events will serve as a value-add to the industry’s efforts of attendee engagement and complement ITB Community and its hosted virtual events. The series will also feature the same Business Matching functions, conferences and keynotes, and exhibition booths that we have become synonymous with. This will now be made available for access for one full year and will create an avenue for increased engagement between buyers, suppliers, and industry players.

Google, Trivago, Raffles to speak at ITB Asia

In addition, at a time when steps towards recovery is still uncertain, we continue to curate expert speakers from across the travel industry as part of our conference programme. These speakers will continue their conversations and contribute insights to best practices and content for the travel trade, serving as a guide for other industry players to reference as they navigate, and rewrite, the new normal.

What is your outlook for the travel industry, especially post-Covid-19?
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how resilient the travel industry can be. Social distancing measures in line with government regulations all around the world have placed a heightened emphasis on hygiene and personal space, inevitably leading to an increased reliance on technology as well.

We have seen an accelerated growth in digitalisation across all sectors, especially businesses who have gone digital as part of work-from-home arrangements.

Travel restrictions have also pushed the travel and hospitality industry to venture towards digitalisation, which includes offering virtual tours to travel-starved travellers, to enhancing digital connectivity to boost contact tracing efforts and even being supported by the government to utilise smart services to allow business to drive innovation and guide business via shared data and content.

More… ITB Asia impresses Singapore

Once thought almost impossible, large scale events – including ITB Asia – have taken the opportunity to pivot to a new event model, demonstrating the travel trade’s ability to innovate, continue forging partnerships and engaging various stakeholders in this challenging time. This new normal will also allow us to embrace a future of hybrid events where physical shows are complemented with digital infrastructure – allowing us the flexibility of embracing both face-to-face and virtual meetings.

This slowdown has provided opportunities for many businesses to revaluate strategies to move towards a more sustainable tourism model. These are valuable opportunities for the industry to rewrite norms and find new ways to continue engaging the masses, consumers and businesses alike, paving the way for resurgence when travel resumes again, slowly but surely.

Katrina Leung is managing director of Messe Berlin (Singapore), the organisers of ITB Asia Virtual, October 21-23

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