The white-hot epicenter of world travel
Every industry has its iconic, center-of-the-universe events. Film has Sundance and Cannes, music has Summerfest, Glastonbury, and Austin City Limits. As for the travel industry, which for years has been one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors, there exists one indisputable star around whom all the smaller travel fairs orbit: ITB Berlin, whirring with activity even as this article is composed. (See the video at the end.) What better place, then, to show off our new ship, m/v Hondius – the most advanced polar cruise vessel to date?
The size and scope of ITB
“ITB Berlin is a titan,” says Oceanwide CEO Michel van Gessel, who’s been able to take only a few short breaks between meetings today. He’s standing near the exhibit’s front booth, keeping a keen eye out for his next appointment while visitors and journalists and booked-solid travel agents muscle past in a never-ending surge. “It’s the most important trade show in the travel industry, so naturally we love to be here.” Based on the sheer physical dimensions of ITB, his appraisal can’t but be accurate: Packed inside the enormous 160,000-square-meter (1.7 million square feet) Messe Berlin convention grounds where ITB is held, some 10,000 exhibits are erected, each promoting a different region of the world. All are eclectically decorated and staffed by travel companies that in total span every continent and more than 180 countries. “There’s simply no other place we can make our presence known in such a major way,” van Gessel adds. “And since our new ship will already be in the water during ITB 2019, there’s no better time to promote it than now.”
Everyone from everywhere, all the time
But while the statistics of ITB are indeed impressive, seeing them in practice is another thing entirely. The event is a breathless cycle of meetings, cultural performances, and, at the end of the day, a clamor of liquor-lubricated networking that swells in volume the more the bottles run dry. “All this uproar somehow decides the future of global travel,” explains Gabi Merten, who handles Oceanwide’s German-speaking reservations. “Sometimes it’s hard to see how, as crazy as things get. But behind all this activity there’s a very precisely timed schedule.” And though this activity might seem excessive, consider the ITB visitor volume: Around 160,000 people flock to Berlin for the event every year, most of them tour operators hustling between back-to-back appointments to secure their clients access to Tahitian resorts, African safaris, and of course, polar cruise companies. And that’s where we come in.
Showing off our new ship – in person
Those who follow Oceanwide know we’ve already announced Hondius, releasing regular updates that detail its construction at Brodosplit shipyard in Croatia. This year’s ITB event, however, marks the first time we’ve had the chance to showcase Hondius in person and on such a public scale. Florian Piper, Oceanwide’s international sales manager, who is himself a 16-year veteran of ITB, elaborates: “Having such big news to announce adds something to the game, something that really determines an important part of our exhibit. Our booth is stacked with ship brochures, for example, which gives us that much more to talk about. It also gives our guests something visually and narratively engaging to take away. They can show the brochure to others, consider it in private when they’re back home, whatever. It’s all part of the experience Oceanwide is trying to create at ITB this year.”
The heart of the Hondius edge
Despite a year that’s been glutted with new ship announcements, Hondius gives Oceanwide’s exhibit a fresh focal point. “The polar cruise industry, like the rest of the cruise industry, has had a big year in terms of new builds,” says long-time expedition leader Philipp Schaudy, busy greeting passersby at Oceanwide’s booth desk. “But few of these ships can claim the advancements Hondius makes in our niche market. Even though the polar regions are always easy to talk about, it does help having a new ship like this one to discuss.” It’s hard to argue: The world’s first vessel to earn a Polar Class 6 notation, Hondius will launch in summer 2019 as the most flexible, fortified, technically advanced polar cruise ship on the seas. Not only that, it offers numerous activities entirely particular to Hondius itself, including interactive workshops covering topics like navigation, astronomy, geology, botany, birdlife, and whale watching, as well as an assortment of musical acts and performances.
Oceanwide among the ITB crowd
The goal of gatherings like ITB is to offer travel professionals a nexus in which to make new connections, advertise their products, and observe the strategies of others. Business transactions do occur here, but they’re more general in nature. Even so, the wide reach of publicity ITB offers due to the vast number of journalists who attend it (around 7,000) affords its exhibitors enormous exposure. And though most ITB exhibitors are European (about 56 percent), all the major travel markets are represented. This puts Oceanwide in good company, then, even though this year it is only one of two polar cruise companies to attend ITB. Some would call this a good thing, as it cuts down on competition, but CEO van Gessel has a different view: “I like it when the other polar companies are here,” he says. “It lets people make a comparison. We do well under comparison.”
The bright and boundless future beyond ITB
ITB ends tomorrow, March 11, though some of the exhibits will close down before then. Ours will be among them, concluding another successful year at the world’s largest travel trade show. Without our seasoned staff stationed at the booth, the whole affair would have been for naught – new ship or no. We now look forward to next year, because as exciting as it is to have a new ship on the way, it’s even better to have one in the water. Only then can we deliver on all the high hopes we have for Hondius, hopes born and nurtured over the long course of its development. Only then can we continue to uphold our cherished standard of exploration while at the same time creating a new and greater one.