The world's largest travel trade show will descend on Berlin on March 10, with new faces and a note of optimism in the air.
Djibouti isn't on most tourist trails, for several immediately obvious reasons. For a start, it's tiny - the population is estimated at around 900,000. It's also unfortunately placed, slap-bang in the middle of lawless Somalia and the conflect-prone Eritrea/Ethiopia. Thirdly, it's not well advertised - for the moment, the official tourist office's website remains a blank page.
However, that could be about to change. Despite having quarrelsome neighbors, Djibouti is a safe destination and relatively easy to get to by air. It has built a relatively solid tourism infrastructure, helped by natural resources that boast great scuba diving, water sports and spectacular lunar-esque landscapes. In 2006, the Kempinski opened Djibouti's first five-star hotel, and Dubai airline flydubai recently launched a low cost route to the country.
Next month, Djibouti will return to the world's biggest travel fair for the first time since 1991 in an attempt to sell itself as a tourist destination hotspot. It is not the only returning guest on the lineup, either. Zanzibar and Gambia have also booked space at this year's show, and as a result, the "Africa" hall at the world's largest travel trade show is completely full.
So, for that matter, are several other sections of the enormous 160,000 square-meter Messe Berlin exhibition centre. In total, a jaw-dropping 11,098 exhibitors will be on display, selling everything from cruises to mobile video streaming to the 178,000 visitors expected at the show.
Exhibitors are organized into 26 halls, one or more assigned to each continent. Asia has experienced an impressive jump in exhibitors, say the organizers, as has India. The Discover America pavilion is booming, as is the Adventure Tourism hall. Debuting this year, the gay and lesbian travel section reflects a growing trend in tourism.
For trade visitors, there will be discussions and presentations on industry themes such as social media and aviation strategy. But for the public, who can visit March 13-14 only, the sights, sounds and experiences of the countries are likely to be the biggest pull. Turkey, as the official partner country, will offer culinary specialties from every Turkish region, a traditional dancing show and the hustle and bustle of a traditional bazaar in its 3,000 square-meter display.
In total, 180 countries, including Djibouti, will be on display at ITB Berlin. Although the global tourism industry has taken a battering through the recession, the strength of interest at the world's largest travel show suggests perhaps that the world is ready to travel again. And serves, perhaps, as a reminder that there are still some places we haven't seen.
ITB Berlin 2010 takes place March 10-14 in Berlin and is open to trade visitors only March 10-12.
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