Online sector is fastest growing

A view of the stalls at the meet.

Only a short time ago everyone was talking about internet business.

"Surprisingly enough, now that the internet bubble has burst, online business on the travel market has become much more interesting", according to Ian Wheeler, Managing Director of e-Travel, the e-commerce business unit of Amadeus, the leading global distribution system (GDS) in Latin America and Europe.

"Today it is one of the fastest growing business sectors."

While the industry in general has contracted, online travel providers and travel technology companies are recording growth rates of up to 100 per cent in the consumer sector, which is considerably higher than in the business travel field, he said.

In this respect they are benefiting from their customers' increasing experience of the internet and of online shopping, as well as from ongoing technological improvements, coupled with the difficult economic situation.

Not only are customers going online in ever greater numbers and becoming less apprehensive about conducting virtual business, with the growing uncertainty about jobs and earnings, although people may still be keen to travel, they are finding it more difficult to plan holidays in advance and to set aside the necessary funds.

The trend towards impulse buying, making reservations at short notice and last-minute business continues, accompanied by a heightened price-sensitivity. E-business offers some interesting solutions with regard to all these aspects. One major factor in this process has been the proliferation of easy-to-use web sites.

As Wheeler admits: "In a technological sense the internet that we now use in our work differs greatly from that of just two or three years ago."

Moreover vigorous efforts are being made at all levels to improve the user's experience, whether this is in the area of graphic design, user guidance, new functionalities, speed, content, efficiency or the integration of various different channels of communication (multi-channel integration). The key to success is to structure the web site and its functionalities as simply as possible, rather than making them more complex. If you are putting your business online, you have to simplify the booking processes, and avoid imposing anything that is unnecessary between the customer and the purchase just because the internet enables you to."

The stabilisation of the technology segment of the tourism industry is also reflected in the applications from those wishing to exhibit at the International Tourism Exchange ITB 2003.

Last year cancellations due to the economic difficulties facing the IT sector caused problems for Messe Berlin when allocating hall space, but the situation has improved this year.

So far over 60 technology companies (main exhibitors) from eight countries have announced that they will be taking part. This market segment is becoming more international all the time, with companies from Eastern Europe (Lithuania, Russia) attending for the first time.

Close collaboration within the IT working group with companies in this sector and the in-depth dialogue about their requirements are already bearing fruit. Any fluctuations have only been slight, thus confirming that Messe Berlin has adopted the right concept.

The editorial team of the "Electronic Congress", now in its 24th year, has decided to change the name, choosing instead the designation "ITB Travel Technology - Congress and Exhibition".

Along with the change of name, a different venue and a new itinerary, the content of the congress has been restructured for the ITB 2003. The intention is to emphasise the closer links with the displays by exhibitors at the Travel Technology section of the ITB Berlin.