U.S. product met with warm reception at ITB

BERLIN -- Despite worldwide political tensions concerning Iraq, U.S. exhibitors at the International Travel Bourse (ITB) 2003 trade show here reported little ill will and plenty of interest in their product.

"I've not experienced any anti-American sentiment here at all," said Joseph Ryback, an Amtrak Vacations sales rep from Downers Grove, Ill. "Despite what's happening in the Persian Gulf, the amount of interest from not only German operators at the show but those from other countries has been very positive."

In fact, Ryback and many other U.S. exhibitors at ITB weathered sometimes overwhelming demand for information on U.S. vacations.

The Visit Florida booth, for example, nearly ran out of brochures only three days into the mammoth trade show, which ran March 7 to 11.

Jo Ann Jose, sales executive for international marketing at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, boasted a full appointment book all five days thanks to interest from tours operators and the German press.

"I don't think this political slap fight going on is as big an issue from the European side, especially regarding visiting the U.S.," said John Hoffman, managing director of the Tri-City Alliance marketing group formed by Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego. "It never even occurred to me that by coming here I was doing anything of any political risk or otherwise."

Eileen Forrow, vice president of sales for Visit Florida, agreed. "Everyone is intelligent enough to realize it's government vs. government," she said. The tourism industry, she said, "more than any other exemplifies friendship."

That said, some U.S. exhibitors apparently had last-minute qualms about attending a European travel trade show given recent events.

B-For International, the Fredericksburg, Va., company that booked the SeeAmerica exhibitors, said it had received some questions from participants concerned about security.

"There were people who were nervous and called to ask if we were taking extra measures," said Kimdell Lorei, director of sales at B-For.

However, the popularity of the SeeAmerica Pavilion has the company forging ahead with plans to bring the booth to other European shows, including World Travel Market in London and BIT in Milan, Italy.

ITB this year attracted more than 125,000 trade and consumer visitors and 10,000 exhibitors, including 616 U.S. firms, 260 of which were conspicuously grouped in the Travel Industry Association's SeeAmerica Pavilion.

Travel bug has bite, but is it contagious?

BERLIN -- More than 125,000 visitors crammed 26 multilevel exhibition halls at the enormous Berlin Exhibition Grounds for the ITB travel trade show, said organizer Messe Berlin.

Nearly half those attendees were German and other foreign consumers eagerly collecting brochures, posters, balloons and other souvenir giveaways -- the stuff of dreams for potential tourists and an encouraging sign that the travel bug hasn't yet lost its bite.

And some 65,000 trade conventioneers also were out in force, feeling out potential partners among the thousands of exhibitors and, in some cases, inking deals.

In fact, according to Messe Berlin, half the exhibitors and 18% of other trade attendees reported signing new contracts.

However, ITB has not yet rebounded to its pre-9/11 highs. Attendance grew by only 2% compared with last year, and trade visitor numbers remained flat.

On the bright side, 233 more exhibitors bought booth space this year, boosting the roster to 9,971, and several companies that withdrew from last year's ITB, such as Club Med, Amadeus, Sabre and Thomas Cook, returned to the fold.

The U.S. presence -- at 616 exhibitors -- made Americans the second-largest participating foreign group, after Spain; some 260 of those exhibitors were gathered in the SeeAmerica Pavilion organized by the Travel Industry Association (TIA).

The TIA used the show to promote its new See America's Byways auto holiday campaign.

In other news at ITB:

• Rezidor SAS Hospitality said it will launch Cerruti, a new "lifestyle" hotel brand. Developed with Italian design and fashion firm Cerruti, the first properties should debut in secondary urban markets in Europe within 14 months, according to Adrian Ort, senior vice president and chief operating officer.

The new Cerruti hotels, to range in size from 80 to 140 rooms, will be "priced to sell," Ort said, with room rates averaging $180.

Rezidor SAS also launched Goldpoints, its first guest loyalty program and announced plans to build up to 50 new Country Inn properties in Russia within the decade.

• German tourism authorities rolled out two marketing brochures developed with partner organizations to promote both central European city touring and gay and lesbian travel.

Berlin Tourism's new Seven Stars of Central Europe brochure, detailing suggested combined itineraries to Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, soon will be made available to U.S. operators and agencies.

The new Gay-Friendly Germany guide, highlighting alternative lifestyle stays in four German cities, will be distributed by the German National Tourist Office and the tourism boards of Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and Munich. -- K.K.

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