Wed Mar 10, 9:49 am ET
BERLIN (AFP) – The world’s largest tourism fair, the ITB, kicked off Wednesday in Berlin with the global travel industry hoping for better times following a crisis-hit 2009.
According to United Nations figures, international tourist arrivals fell by four percent in 2009 and earnings from international tourism dropped by six percent as the world economy went into a tailspin.
However, speaking to reporters as the ITB opened, the secretary-general of the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, Taleb Rifai, said that the worst was over.
“We do think that we are leaving the bad year behind, clearly. The last part of 2009 and the first part of 2010 indicate a bottoming out,” he said.
“People are going to continue to want to travel. It’s unstoppable. It’s become engrained in the culture and psyche of people. It’s become a human right,” he said.
“Even when incomes went down, people continued to travel. They travelled differently, they travelled cheaper, they travelled closer, they spent less money, but they did not stop travelling.”
At the Berlin fair, described by Rifai as “the mother of all tourism fairs”, 11,127 companies from 187 countries have booked stands, organisers said, a very slight rise from last year.
However, in the German market, Europe’s biggest, the recovery was likely to be delayed until 2011, the country’s tourism board head said.
Klaus Laepple said that 2010 “will be a challenging year but also a year of consolidation and stability. We are cautiously optimistic but we are not euphoric. 2011 could once again be a normal year.”
The ITB was due to open for trade visitors and media on Wednesday and throw its doors open to the public on March 13, wrapping up a day later.