8 Mistakes Tour Operators Should Avoid at ITB Berlin

Frida Kops   ● 11 min read

When it comes to trade shows of this scale, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos and come away questioning how valuable the show was for your tour operator business. Not to mention the exhaustion that ensues and the inevitable dent in your wallet. 

Whether ITB Berlin is a permanent fixture in your diary or you’re thinking of attending for the first time, the size of the event, the number of attendees and the sheer amount of free talks and networking events can feel overwhelming! 

But just know this: in order to gain maximum output, considerable input is required PRIOR to attending ITB Berlin.

Listed below are the amateur mistakes you absolutely want to avoid and the tactics on how to plan like a pro.

1. Having no objective

ITB is where first impressions and your best pitch is made, but the real conversations come in the aftermath of the event. 

Be aware that most attendees will schedule back-to-back meetings so expect appointments to run for around 15 minutes maximum (possibly shorter if there’s a knock on effect of late runners).

Think of it like speed dating, but with business cards.

So in order to maximise those short snippets of face-to-face time, it’s vital that you consider what your desired outcome would be and come prepared with a plan and a pitch accordingly. 

Make it tight, impactful and to the point. There’s no time for waffling here.

Here are some questions that will act as a good starting point:

  • What pain points is your tour operator business experiencing? What exhibitors or public speakers may be able to help you?
  • Are you seeking a collaboration?
  • Are you looking for help with PR or advertising?
  • Is your goal to meet with existing partners and strengthen those relationships?
  • Do you want to see what the competition is up to?
  • Are you seeking a better understanding of your travel niche from a global perspective?
  • Is finding a support system of fellow tour operators in your niche a priority?

Want to learn more about how to convert your valuable leads into bookings?

Why not chat with us before we meet at ITB Berlin!

Schedule your free 10x Travel Strategy Session with one of our Get More Bookings® Specialists

In this call we will walk you through how our unique process can help you generate more leads and improve your conversions.

2. Skipping orientation

A few years ago, I attended a trade show at the Birmingham NEC in the UK and went full steam ahead booking appointments without first becoming orientated with the floorplan. 

Rookie mistake. 

Turns out, I had inadvertently booked appointments at polar opposite ends of the show. So needless to say I spent the whole time stressed and running behind schedule. Not the best first impressions I had hoped for.

On the plus side, my Fitbit activity was off the chart that week.

Don’t be a rookie like me, follow these simple steps instead:

  • Study the floor plan below and save it to your mobile device or tablet.
  • Get to grips with how the show is segmented. Then allow yourself plenty of time to get to each appointment if they are at different locations.
  • Even better, bunch your appointments together by location.
  • Download the mobile app for live updates and schedules.

3. Thinking you can wing it

Now you’ve established what you want to get out of the event, it’ll make it easier to determine which exhibitors and attendees you’d like to secure appointments with.

People and companies from over 180 countries attend ITB Berlin. Therefore, it’s impossible to think you can turn up and get to speak to everyone you want to.

Here’s a breakdown of attendees by sector:

  • Tour operators – the majority of attendees (24%) are tour operators who tend to make up the bulk of exhibitors 
  • Tourist organisations
  • Travel technology companies
  • Hotels
  • DMC
  • Travel agencies
  • Tourism associations and institutions 
  • PR/ consulting / advertising agencies
  • General public (Saturday and Sunday only).

PRO TIP – Make a list of everyone you are interested in talking to, then break them down into 3 categories according to priority: 

  1. Those who you absolutely 100% want to speak to. These are the companies who could potentially move the needle for your tour operator business.
  2. Those who interest you and you’d like to know more. Your goal is to speak to the right contact or at least obtain their business card. 
  3. Those who you need to show your face for a quick hello. In this category, you do not need to make an appointment. Make a note of their stand and swing by when you can. 

This system will prevent you from unintentionally filling up your calendar with too many in category 2 or 3 and more of category 1 so you make every minute count.

ITB Berlin offers an online platform called the Virtual Market Place where you can search and browse contacts and filter by business type, hall location and country.

They also have an ITB Networker Directory which you can find here.


Do you run an ambitious multi-day tour operator business serving major world markets?

Are already investing at least $32,000 per year in sales and marketing?

Want to grow your business to 7 and 8-figures generating consistent, reliable ROI over months and years, not weeks?

We want to meet you at ITB Berlin and discuss your obstacles to sales growth.

Reach out to Chris Michael to book an appointment today.

Discover How To Grow Your Tour Operator Business With A Proven, Automated Sales & Marketing System That Gives You The Freedom To Enjoy Your Success

4. Passing by the panel discussions

ITB Berlin shouldn’t only be about reinforcing existing relationships and building new ones. There is an abundance of free information in the form of talks, panel discussions, workshops, forums and deep dive sessions where you’ll gain actionable tips for your tour operator business.

But to fit these most effectively into your day, making a plan of which talks to attend and noting where they are is crucial. 


The free sessions are segmented by geographical locations as well as this year’s most current topics:

  • Youth Travel & Economy Accommodation
  • Adventure Travel, Responsible Tourism 
  • Business Travel
  • MICE
  • Careers
  • eTravel
  • ITB Book Awards
  • Hospitality
  • Cultural Tourism
  • LGBT+ Travel
  • Luxury
  • Medical Tourism
  • Social Responsibility
  • Travel Technology
  • Virtual & Augmented Reality

So the question really becomes...

Which talks will help your tour operator business the most?

I’ve listed my top 9 sessions for tour operators below. 

And if you’re still deciding which days to attend… 

…then Wednesday 4 March has the most panels and talks targeted specifically for the tour operator sector.

Yet having said that, there are some valuable talks happening throughout the show so you’d benefit from attending Wednesday through to Friday, if you’re able to.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

The Unstoppable Rise of the Asian Travellers

Setting aside the current Coronavirus epidemic, the international tourism market still sees Asia as its biggest growth driver. Senior executives from Asia’s leading travel companies discuss how they adapt their tours to satisfy the changing needs of Asian travellers as a result of technology innovation and rising purchasing power.

Date: Wed 4 March 2020 (eTravel Lab Day 1)

Time: 12:00 – 12:30

Location: Hall 7.1b, eTravel Lab

ITB Executive Panel: Tours, Activities & Attractions

Tourists all over the world want special experiences in their destinations, they expect tailor-made offers and are prepared to spend more money on them. 

How can this huge potential be tapped, and how can the technological challenges be overcome? 

Are we experiencing a “quantum leap” in the individualization of travel offers, and can tour operators finally go back to differentiating themselves in terms of the quality of their offers? 

This session will feature new insights from the first global study of this important sector, in partnership between Arival and ITB. 

Introduced & Moderated by: Douglas Quinby, Co-Founder & CEO, Arival 

Panel guests: Wilfred Fan, Chief Commercial Officer, Klook

Date: Wed 4 March 2020 (ITB Future Day)

Time: 13:00 – 13:45 

Location: CityCube Berlin, Hall A4/A5

What Drives The Industry In 2020

Keynote and subsequent panel discussion with industry experts looking at this year’s landscape.

Keynote: Lukas C. Hempel, Managing Director, Bookingkit

Moderated by: Charlotte Lamp Davies, Founder, A Bright Approach

Panel guests:

  • Mathis Boldt, VP Sales and Supply, GetYourGuide
  • Matthias Goeze, CCO, Visit Berlin
  • Klaudjia Janzeli, Global Sales Director, Urban Adventure

Date: Wed 4 March 2020 (TTA Forum)

Time: 14:10 – 15:00

Location: Hall 7.1b, eTravel Lab

Sustainability And In-Destination Services: Keynote And Best Case Presentations

If you’ve signed up to The 10xpress weekly email of travel news and top tip articles to improve your tour operator business, then you’ll know that sustainability is an issue that is consistently prevalent, not only in the travel industry but in global news also. 

In light of this, a tour operator’s attitude (and more importantly, actions) towards sustainable practices has become increasingly important to travellers when selecting their tours.  

And rightly so. 

ITB Berlin is hosting an entire Sustainable Development Day on Thursday 5 March, but to kickstart the show this keynote is aimed at tour operators.

The presentation will be broken down into 4 sections:

  1. Keynote: Overtourism – How Local Tour Operators can Tackle Destination Challenges
  2. Best case presentation of Conscious Tourism International
  3. Best case presentation of the City of Gothenburg: How Gothenburg became the leading destination in sustainability
  4. Subsequent discussion with Q&A

Keynote: Eric de la Bonnardiere, Co-Founder, Evaneos

Moderated by: Milena S. Nikolova, Knowledge and Adventure EDU Director, Adventure Travel Trade Association


  • Chris Wray , Co-Founder, Conscious Tourism Cambodia
  • Stefan Gadd , Corporate Communication Manager, Göteborg

Date: Wed 4 March 2020 (TTA Forum)

Time: 15:00 – 15:30

Location: Hall 7.1b, eTravel Lab

ITB Executive Panel: Tours, Activities & Attractions
Five Tech Trends Shaping Tours & Activities in 2020

Arival position themselves as “the voice to the In-Destination Industry”. They regularly carry out consumer and industry research with the purpose of helping tour operators understand travel trends and facilitate business growth. 

It’s therefore worth marking your calendars for this presentation given by the Co-Founder & CEO of Arival as he’ll be discussing their latest research on the five essential trends redefining the tours and activities sector for 2020 and beyond.

Speaker: Douglas Quinby, Co-Founder & CEO, Arival

Date: Wed 4 March 2020 (TTA Forum)

Time: 15:30 – 16:00

Location: Hall 7.1b, eTravel Lab

ITB Berlin Five Tech Trends Shaping Tours & Activities in 2020

Thursday 5 March 2020

Global Luxury Customers And Sustainability: Exclusive Empirical Study By Travelzoo & ITB

For those of you in the luxury travel niche, this presentation takes a look at customer attitudes including their readiness for limiting trips, price increases and changes in travel IF the result is better sustainability and climate protection.

You’ll learn about the latest results from the new global Travelzoo/ITB study also.

Moderated by: Marc Aeberhard, Owner, Luxury Hotel & Spa Management Ltd.

Speaker: Sharry Sun, Global Head of Brand, Travelzoo

Date: Thurs 5 March 2020 (ITB Marketing & Distribution Day)

Time: 15:00 – 15:45

Location: CityCube Berlin, Hall A4/A5

Friday 6 March 2020

Studiosus Talk: Sustainable Tourism And Climate Change: It Makes Sense To Travel! But Does It Really?

Can we still continue to travel in the wake of climate change? What would be the consequences of not traveling? Is carbon offsetting the solution? What responsibilities do tour operators have?

These are just some of the questions that will be covered in this talk. Expect a lively debate!

Moderated by: Dinah Deckstein, Journalist, Der Spiegel 

Panel guests: 

  • Helena Marschall, Climate Activist, Fridays for Future 
  • Antje Monshausen, Head of Tourism Watch, Bread for the World 
  • Philipp Laage, Journalist & Author 
  • Peter Mario Kubsch, Managing Director, Studiosus

Date: Fri 6 March 2020 (ITB CSR Day)

Time: 13:00 – 13:45

Location: CityCube Berlin, Hall A1

Thumb Stopping: The Case To Make More Content That Moves, Sings, And Smiles

If you feel like your blog or social media content isn’t gaining the engagement you had hoped, then Lauren Teague aims to cover a wide range of content strategies that will help you create content to capture your audience’s attention. This talk is valuable for tour operators who are struggling with content marketing, or even those who want to take it to the next level.

Speaker: Lauren Teague, Digital Native, Strategist, Speaker

Date: Thurs 6 March 2020 (ITB Deep Dive Sessions 3)

Time: 11:00 – 11:45

Location: CityCube Berlin, Cube Club

Google Algorithms Vs. Google Penalties Explained

If you’ve got a burning question about Google’s algorithm or SEO then I’d advise staying to the end of this talk for the open audience Q&A with former senior Search Quality Googler and SEO expert Kaspar Szymanski. 

Speaker: Kaspar Szymanski, SEO Expert, former Google Search Quality Team Member, SearchBrothers.com

Date: Thurs 6 March 2020 (ITB Deep Dive Sessions 3)

Time: 13:00 – 13:45

Location: CityCube Berlin, Cube Club

PRO TIP – Decide which talks and presentations you don’t want to miss and ensure you block these out in your calendar before you start making appointments. Surround those presentations with appointments located in the same hall. 

I find the filter by Hall feature on the Virtual Market Place particularly useful to minimise time wastage.

5. Turning down the off-shoot networking events

Making the assumption that the off-shoot networking events are not a valuable use of your time, is a missed opportunity. 

Found out someone you wanted to speak to is already fully booked? 

Ask them what external events they’re going to and use these as your moment to steal some time with them.

ITB Berlin hosts events outside of the trade show business hours including networking meet-ups, brunches and weekend activities (which are open to the general public also) and even morning runs! 

Learn what these events are by visiting the ITB Berlin website

ITB Berlin networking-event

6. Not saying hello to our team of Get More Bookings® Specialists!

If you’re an ambitious tour operator who wants to grow their business, then we want to meet you! 

  • Do you run an ambitious multi-day tour operator business serving major world markets?
  • Are already investing at least $32,000 per year in sales and marketing?
  • Do you want to grow your business to 7 and 8-figures generating consistent, reliable ROI over months and years, not weeks?

If this sounds like you then our team of Get More Bookings® Specialists are attending ITB Berlin on Wednesday 4 March – Friday 8 March 2020…

...so let’s have a chat to discuss your obstacles to sales growth and show you what a Get More Bookings® sales funnel would look like for YOUR travel business.


Reach out to Chris Michael to book an appointment today.

Book an appointment at ITB Berlin

Not ready to chat yet? No problem.
Head here to learn how our unique process works.

7. Dining alone

ITB Berlin is the leading travel trade show for the global market. It hosts 160,000 visitors and 10,000 exhibitors. That’s a lot of people staying in hotels which means a lot of opportunity to meet people outside of the event. 

Breakfast meetings I find to be the most beneficial when you have business to discuss, such as a proposal you wish to pitch. This is because people are fresh for the day and at their most receptive (as long as you make sure the coffee has been served first).

Save the dinner meetings and after-event drinks for social facetime, relationship building and schmoozing.

8. Succumbing to brain fog!

Low energy levels and lack of food, leaves us unable to think clearly, which is the last thing you need when you’re in the middle of a meeting.

While it’s easy to fill your diary with back-to-back meetings and conferences, you need to find the time to eat! 

This may sound like a no-brainer, but in my experience, the best way to do this is to block out time in your calendar.  

These events can be extremely draining with long days and lots of walking so make sure you keep your energy levels up. I’d recommend packing healthy snacks so you’re never caught out and avoid the sugar crashes.

Still on the fence about whether to attend?

The cost of the ticket, flights, accommodation and socialising expenses can all add up, so if you’re still on the fence about whether to attend ITB Berlin 2020, here are some useful stats from last year’s attendees and exhibitors:

Is your top priority for 2020 to find a reliable and consistent system of converting leads into bookings?

You don’t need to attend ITB Berlin to discover this.

Click the button below to schedule your FREE 10x Travel Strategy Session.

One of our Get More Bookings® Specialists will walk you through how our unique process can help you generate more leads and improve your conversions.

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