#ITB2020 cancelled – for better or for worse …


(Posted 29th February 2020)

As far as yesterday morning did a number of tourism boards keep pushing for their respective tourism sectors to attend the world’s largest tourism fair, clearly putting business and profit before public health safety.
The writing was on the wall for over two weeks, before the cancellation of the ITB Berlin was made public yesterday evening, that the event was heading to the exit this year.
Numerous other conferences and exhibitions in Germany had already put a stop to their event, some voluntarily and well in advance and they must be congratulated about it while others needed local and federal government intervention.
South African Tourism was the first tourism board from Africa to state unequivocally that they had prohibited their home based staff to travel to Berlin but not even then did other tourism boards take a leaf from that reaction and, like the proverbial ostriches, kept their heads buried in the sand.

Messe Berlin in this particular case must bear a lot of blame for the time they took and the excuses they uttered until last evening, being clearly more concerned with their revenues and probably more important, potential liabilities and legal claims coming as a result of cancelling the world’s most important tourism trade fair, the first such cancellation in 54 years.
It speaks volumes that in their statement they shoved the responsibility to the German Federal Government and the state government and health authorities for the cancellation, almost sounding regretful over the cancellation.

Said Messe Berlin in their feeble statement:

Due to the increasing spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the Federal Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Economics have implied a cancellation of ITB Berlin 2020. The responsible health authority of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf of Berlin has increased the requirements for the event to take place early this evening (18:27). Among other things, the authority orders Every trade fair participant must prove to Messe Berlin that they do not come from the defined risk areas or have had contact with a person from the risk areas. Messe Berlin is unable to implement all these requirements.

Messe Berlin has been pointing out for weeks that the decision to hold or cancel major events can only be made on the basis of the recommendation or instruction of the relevant authorities. Only these authorities have all the necessary information and expertise to draw the right conclusions.

Dr. Christian Göke, CEO of Messe Berlin GmbH, said: “With more than 10,000 exhibitors from over 180 countries, ITB Berlin is of outstanding importance for the global tourism industry. We take our responsibility for the health and safety of our guests, exhibitors and employees very seriously. It is with a heavy heart that we look forward to the cancellation of ITB Berlin 2020, which has now become necessary”.

Duped into believing, until last evening, that #ITB2020 would take place did dozens of tourism stakeholders from Eastern Africa make flight bookings up to yesterday morning, paid for often non refundable tickets, prepaid for hotel confirmations and are now left hanging.

Said one stakeholder from an East African country to ATCNews this morning on condition of anonymity:

I read your posts and articles over the past days and weeks but my tourism board reassured me that all would be well and I should not listen to such panic announcement. I wish I had believed you and not them! When I called this morning and asked for getting my money back for participation and if they would assist to get money back for tickets etc, they were defensive and evaded the question. Instead they talked of their own losses, imagine. If I learned one lesson, once I read something in ATCNews I from now on take that as the truth as things are‘.

One of Kenya’s top tourism stakeholders, Mr. Mohammed Hersi, who is also the Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation, was the lone voice of reason and caution with his Facebook and Twitter posts over the past two weeks and finally went public with his incidentally first weekly column at ATCNews, when he called for ITB to be cancelled two days ago.

He too reportedly came under instant critique but those who tried to shoot him down in flames are now the ones being roasted by their fellow tourism stakeholders for having lacked the foresight, insight, wisdom and courage to say what he went on to say in public.

Thank you therefore Mohammed Hersi for exactly that courage, something you never lacked and for taking on the powers that be who were hellbent to go to Berlin, citing loss of revenue, loss of visitors, loss of profits, loss of investment but forgot the most important issue, the gain vis a vis public health by shutting down a potential entry route of the virus into East Africa.

Here more than before does ‘Better safe than sorry‘ make a fitting proverb and with the dominos of public events in Europe now tumbling – cancellations are now chasing each other – was the forced decision for East Africa’s and Africa at large creme de la creme of the tourism, hospitality and aviation industries to stay at home the best there can be.

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