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Technology and sustainability the big themes at Berlin's ITB travel trade show

Technology and sustainability the big themes at Berlin's ITB travel trade show
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Technology and sustainability were the big themes at this year's ITB travel trade show in Berlin. In this episode of Spotlight, Euronews speaks to delegates and exhibitors about the changes currently taking place in the travel industry and the tourism trends for the year ahead.

"The world has come to Berlin for the annual ITB travel trade show. More than 10,000 exhibitors, representing 180 countries, are showcasing some of the best places to holiday, the latest innovations in business travel and technology that's shaking up the industry,"

Damon Embling, Euronews

A firm favourite on the tourist map

All sorts of destinations and experiences were vying for the attention of the 110,000 or so trade visitors who flock to the German capital. One country that has a got a big presence at ITB Berlin is India. A firm favourite on the tourist map, attracting visitors year after year, who come to marvel at the likes of the Taj Mahal. Yoga and wellness holidays also continue to be a big pull. To stand out in today's crowded travel market, India is encouraging visitors to go beyond the traditional attractions by visiting rural communities.

"There are places in the country which have been developed for a person to be able to go and experience the real, true rural life and how a person goes about it in, I would say, peace with nature, explains Yogendra Tripathi, from India's Ministry of Tourism.

He adds, “It’s all linked to the population directly and they directly benefit out of it in terms of being able to make more money out of their assets, being able to interact with others.

"What we're trying to generate is that there's a life... which still co-exists along with this mad urban world where we are running after everything all the time."

Young travellers driving tourism growth

Tourism is a growth industry, with visitor numbers from Asia, including China, booming. Tech-savvy Millennials are also helping to fuel this upward trend, travelling to countries like South Africa. Young travellers represent the fastest area of growth, with social media and blogs driving their passion to try something new and authentic.

"The key word for them is treat me like a local, I want to walk like a local, act like a local, drink like a local and everything else from that perspective, says Sisa Ntshona, CEO of South African Tourism.

He goes on to say: "Technology is so important. It's got to deliver, it's got to deliver it sharp. But it's about educating and informing the tourists as they go along. And it's also great for us around data, it's all about insights, collection of data, big data, how to describe it. How do we speak to you as individuals as opposed to a group? How do we market specifically for you as well? And we're able to deliver that into your hand device, so that you can feel that somebody is speaking to me and really talk about my interests as well.”

Albania open for business

Technology is also something that Albania is using to show the tourism world it is open for business. A relatively new destination, sitting in southeast Europe, Albania attracted more than six million foreign tourists last year, a rise of 20 percent on 2017. Once a hidden treasure, its breathtaking mountains and stunning beaches are now big magnets for many.

Blendi Klosi, Albania Minister of Tourism and Environment said: "The companies are understanding right now that the story has changed and tour operators are becoming more of an IT company. So even us, we are entering some different campaigns, which are dealing more with the social media, which is helping to change the image of Albania. But also the foreigners to understand that Albania is one unique place that needs to be visited once in a life."

Sustainable and responsible tourism

Many countries are keen to attract tourists in harmony with protecting the natural environment_._ Destinations like the Seychelles are at the heart of that drive given that the islands are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The country has limited tourist numbers for a longtime and has had a moratorium on the construction of big hotels. Many plastics are also banned, including single-use bags, cups, utensils and straws.

"We're encouraging all tourists that come to the Seychelles to be part of this exciting journey, to participate and try and keep the Seychelles pristine as they come and see it. And we're trying to encourage them to do activities that are sustainable, says Didier Dogley, Seychelles Minister of Tourism.

He adds: "At the same time, all the hotels, we're encouraging them to get on board, onto the sustainability label programme that we have in the country which basically provides for the hôtels to be sustainable as far as energy use, water use, but also the different products that they use and especially to use more local products in their restaurants and in the hotel in general."

The sustainability challenge stretches into the skies too. Airlines like Thai Airways are investing in new planes, which are greener and more fuel efficient. New technologies are transforming the way we travel and the carbon footprint we leave behind.

Kittiphong Sansomboon from Thai Airways said: "At Thai, we are keen and put the green technology, the environment at the forefront. So that's why we try all of our best to acquire the new technology, new generation of the aircraft, because we know that these aircraft are fuel efficient."

Trends and challenges

ITB is also an opportunity for key players to debate and discuss current trends and challenges in the industry. Tourism infrastructure is one of those.

"As we keep growing, we do understand and we carry the responsibility to ensure that we are responsible when it comes to tourism and it's sustainable and it's also most importantly eco-friendly. Because I mean 65 percent of Georgia is all mountains and it's greenery," said Mariam Kvrivishvili, Head, Georgian National Tourism Administration.

Linked to infrastructure is the challenge of over-tourism. Many countries are now promoting secret hotspots to ease the load on the main attractions. They are also trying to spread visitor numbers throughout the year.

"Over-tourism is a big issue in many destinations, like for example in Venice and Dubrovnik and so on, and here we need new measures to cope with this problem. For example, we need restrictions or we need pricing models that not everyone can come in for free. They have to pay for it and so on. So, there are different measures to cope with these challenges," says Professor Roland Conrady, Scientific Director at the ITB Berlin.

A bigger slice of the tourism pie

Away from the debates and discussions, China had a big showing at this year's ITB Berlin. As Chinese traveller numbers boom, the country is looking to get a bigger slice of the tourism action at home by encouraging travellers to visit places like the southern Hainan province. The city of Sanya, for instance, is known as the “Hawaii of the East”, and is becoming a top beach destination.

“Hainan is a tropical island in the southernmost province of China. It's located on the same latitude as Hawaii and Phuket. The first impression people will get of Hainan is sunshine and beaches, but we also have more authentic natural resources to offer - 1944 kilometres of coastline, 61 wonderful bays, more than 70 natural hot springs and 81 mountains over 1000 metres high...We also have China's most convenient visa-free policy. The 59 visa free countries include many European countries, such as Germany, the UK and France.” said Fenghua Fu, Deputy director, International Marketing Division, Department of Tourism, Culture, Radio, Television and Sports of Hainan Province

"focused on the strength of the Filipino"

Elsewhere in Asia, the Philippines is enjoying new flight connectivities and is looking to tap into newer markets such as Russia and the Middle East. Like other countries, the Philippines is increasingly putting its people at the heart of its tourism vision.

Marie Venus Q. Tan, CEO from the Tourism Promotions Board Philippines said: "More and more we are looking at diversifying, not only into beach and mountains, and promoting that, we're looking now at immersive and experiential aspects of travel and this has changed very much. People are now travelling because of interest. It is motivation and this is where we're going to drive travellers towards the Philippines, both domestic and international, it will be interest.

She concludes by saying: "And it will be really focused on the strength of the Filipino, our culture, our people, our history. So we are looking at those who will create the narrative, and to us, to me, the next 10 years, this is going to create a lot of interest towards the Philippines."