ITB Berlin 2021 — How travel changed overnight

The message — we should accept climate change and work along with it, not around it

Natalia Kresic
7 min readMar 20, 2021


ITB Berlin 2021 — virtual edition. Copyright: Berlin Messe GmbH

Last week’s ITB — Berlin’s International Tourism Fair was an important event, even though it was virtually organized due to the pandemic. The event originally brings together the travel industry in one place. The trends and novelties are communicated, old partnerships celebrated, new ones forged, and excitement of being part of this dynamic industry shared.

I used to visit travel fairs regularly when I began working as a B2B Contract Manager in 2005 for a travel company in Croatia that was making big entry to the market.

For a few years, I found myself working tirelessly during spring and summer, while in winter, it was time for contacting partners and establishing new collaborations. In January, it was particularly dynamic. I used to fly from Madrid to Utrecht and then to Oslo. Even though at times very stressful, this was then a dream job for 24 year-old-me. However, besides the work, I most vividly remember the buzz around at those fairs. Tourism of those years was blooming, even exploding in some areas.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

The digitalization and technical solutions were introducing tremendous changes, low costs were spreading, and new destinations were finally getting on the map. It looked like there is no stopping for tourism to thrive. What a misjudgment!

I did not participate in the fair business or traditional travel industry for many years as I found my own niche somewhere else.

Step by step, I began writing, consulting, and managing projects in sustainable development, especially tourism. I began to feel and sound like an advocate for slowing down tourism and our lives and getting to the bottom of the social, cultural, and psychological reasons people travel.

More importantly, I became interested in what travel causes, disrupts, or how it enhances the destination tourists visit.

Photo by Mark de Jong on Unsplash

However, this winter, I began collaborating with a boutique travel agency whose founder told the same story I believe tourism should be: small scale, sustainable, slow, full of connection and lasting memories.

At this year’s ITB Berlin, except for the contacts with real and potential partners, I was amazed by the number of conferences, presentations, and panel talks that were aired five days in a row, at five different „stages.“

I was struck by choice of topics. Many were communicating urgency, speaking about the alarming situation, unpredictability, instability, lost workforce, the eternal on-hold moment we all found ourselves in.

Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

Yes, tourism is on its knees worldwide, and nobody knows for sure how it can get back to its feet. Maybe for some — it just won’t. It is painful to see this happening, but on the other hand — didn’t we see it coming?

Does it really have to do that much with the virus?

The virus was just an accelerator of many already visible issues during the ‘old normal.’ The new normal was around the corner anyway. And yet now, it has been exactly one year since the 2020 ITB was canceled last minute and was mourned loudly by its supposed attendees who were suddenly forced to cancel their travel arrangements to Berlin. At that moment it was all about the regrets of missed events, professional upgrade, good company, food, and entertainment.

However, the new ITB, besides being aired at distance, was humble, authentic, alarming, sincere, and, I believe for the first time, unambitious.

I am not saying it was not positive or encouraging in a way — it was. But more or less everything and everyone was pointing to the simple single fact that CHANGE took place.

The conditions changed, the traveler changed, the destinations are not the same anymore. Therefore, the service itself needs to change.

This turbulent fixation we were forced to live through brought about a tremendous change in our lives, work dynamics, and preferences.

But most importantly, we lived a catharsis of resetting our priorities. Once he/she is able to travel, the traveler of today will have other criteria of where to go and why. Suddenly, I have witnessed even the most conservative players on the travel market speak about meaningful travel, sustainability, the flying-less initiatives.

Photo by Scott Evans on Unsplash

We discussed how the pandemic had encouraged critical thinking of future tourism — putting a former model of tourism as a destructive force (best example is over-tourism) vs. becoming a constructive force or, in other words, the one that promotes sustainable and seamless tourism, that offers real meaning, while keeping the local milieu undamaged.

For myself, an advocate for responsible living, I found this incredibly right.

It just felt justified to see Finland take the stage and present their superb way of managing their whole country tourism sustainably over the last two decades even (!), as well as Slovenia, the neighboring country to my homeland Croatia, taking the stand and being the star of sustainable tourism in Europe.

Photo by Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash / Finnish Landscape

Many issues were tackled, analyzed, and discussed. They mostly fall into the category of sustainability, technological advances, and the change in new consumer habits.

To emphasize just some of the ideas that keep lingering in my mind, let me share the following:

  1. Residents and communities need to be at the heart of the destination. It was once again recognized that „empty“ thematic cities where the tourist crowds and businesses that cater only to tourists have made the local people move out are a complete failure for their residents as well as a total disappointment that was strikingly made clear now when the pandemic brought around the „lockdown“ way of life. For example, to ensure that tourism does not disrupt their way of life, New Zealand conducts a happiness survey regularly among its residents. The idea that people who work in tourism need to embrace the social pillar of sustainability and not the other way around was well explained during one of the panel talks.
Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash / New Zealand’s urban infrastructure

2. Another interesting question is how the mentioned „change“ actually presents a „shift“ that took place rather abruptly.

From a business point of view, it’s about moving the focus from marketing a destination to managing a destination.

This shift moves from external to the internal sphere of a destination where it actually does exist: working with the workforce cycle, taking care of the suppliers’ network according to the sustainability principles, preserving the authenticity of the place, and finally producing a tourism product that is in its core sustainable, and not just in its distribution and external image.

3. Another interesting angle to the whole discussion involved accepting tourism more positively, not simply accusing it of its large contribution to the CO2 emissions, disruption of wildlife, and overall pollution — since freedom of movement, mobility, traveling present some basic human rights regulated by international and European law. People learn about other cultures, connect to the communities, witness climate issues and other countries’ problems more clearly, and, therefore, contribute positively by becoming more educated and aware. The result is awareness about the importance of inclusivity, sustainability, and responsibility.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash / Meaningful travel expands horizons

When referring again to sustainability that is implemented hands-on in a destination, one example positively surprised me. Mike Wallace presented a project in the Maldives and explained how 3D printing is being used to prevent shipping tons of cosmetic products packaged in plastic to these remote islands. They only ship necessary ingredients and mix them with base oil or water and print the necessary packaging in 3D. Besides this, at the wellness and health resort, he presented the client’s personalized 3D-produced vitamins and herbal remedies to help them sleep better and relax during their stay. Every product is FDA approved and shows how sustainability (no shipping, elaboration on the spot), technology (3D), and new consumer habits (fighting stress caused by the lockdowns and other pandemic related problems, eagerness for regeneration, etc.) work together and offer a solution that responds perfectly to the challenges of the new normal.

When I logged out on Friday from this online event, I sighed in relief. Finally, it has become clear that there is no other way than to accept global climate change and work along with it, not around it.

Everybody who wants to continue working and prospering in tourism must accept this change, adapt to it, and reorientate their philosophy, even though this seemed irrelevant just one year ago. Yes, I think I witnessed a change in travel happen overnight.

Thanks for reading this story written by @Natalia Kresic Loncar for Publication Whizzk.

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Natalia Kresic
Editor for

Educated and worked in tourism, certified in sustainable tourism, an explorer of positive future options concerning environment, society and culture.