Thinking Big At The ITB


“Success is for everyone”. On board of the KLM flight to Berlin I read the column of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines CEO Mr Pieter Elbers in the inflight magazine Holland Herald. A bit of a tacky title but I trust you will agree that KLM’s big boss has other issues to deal with than the headline of his column. “Half of the plane is filled with people working in the travel industry who are going to the ITB, the biggest tourism exhibition in the world”, I told the KLM stewardess who was wondering why the plane was filled to the brim. All of them in pursuit of the ITB success mantra:  More, more, more…, big, bigger, biggest.

The foreword made me think of something that happened 21 years ago when I went to an information event of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce for starting entrepreneurs. The employee treated us to a great deal of one-liners (after some time I wondered if he had ever been an entrepreneur himself) and one of those one-liners was: THINK BIG! Luckily, I never did anything with this advice. My motto for the past 20 years has been: good things come in small packages. This has worked perfectly fine for me. But as the saying goes…the exception proves the rule and indeed my first “thinking big” experience happened to me while I was at the ITB.

Even though this was the 14th time that I attended the ITB Berlin, I am still overwhelmed by its sheer size. Over 115.000 people talking to and about each other.

A constant stream of bodies all moving about with the same goal: more sales, more tourists and more revenue. All of this noise and all these people coming together at 6 pm in a Woodstock like atmosphere at one of the many gatherings and parties.

Due to all the stimuli, my head kept “buzzing”. I usually sleep irregularly during ITB nights. After finally succumbing to sleep I was suddenly walking through empty ITB halls. Dumbfounded I yelled: “Is anyone there?” (in German of course). No reply. At the exit I found a cleaner that looked suspiciously at me. “Where is everyone?” I asked. “Haven’t your heard?” he said. He continued: “All the ITB visitors have decided to skip the show this year to save the planet”. While tourism is nice for your wallet, it is also an attack on Mother Nature. My confusion quickly turned into appreciation. What an amazing and generous gesture of the worldwide travel industry! Then a wonderful idea formed in my head (all of this while being asleep), what if we introduce one day in the year that all 39.000 airplanes worldwide stay on the ground. Similar to the already existing car free days.  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful gesture of the aviation and tourism industry to our beloved planet?

During breakfast my girlfriend asked me: “How did you sleep?” “Wonderful” I answered. I just did Mother Nature a huge favour thanks to the Chamber of Commerce. I walked out of the hotel with my bamboo briefcase for another day of doing business. “Success for everyone”. Do you think KLM’s CEO would have meant that for the planet as well?