For the third year in a row, a delegation of Pittsburgh tourism and business officials participated in the International Travel Bourse (ITB) in Berlin, Germany, a trade show that draws more than 130,000 attendees annually.
Much had changed in the 12 months since their last visit. For instance, Pittsburgh:
- Has been the subject of more than 100 positive articles throughout Germany and Europe, heralding the city’s food scene and regional outdoor assets.
- Played host to numerous European journalists, who enjoyed itineraries that featured some of the finest spots the region has to offer tourists.
- Has had its story told to more than 145 travel agents throughout Europe.
- Secured four-day weekly nonstop service from London Heathrow Airport by British Airways, starting April 2.
“It truly has been a remarkable year,” said Katie Conaway, who has been domestic and international group sales director for VisitPittsburgh since 2017.
“Since our team visited Germany in March 2018 for ITB, we’ve made great progress. In addition to increasing bookable product, we’ve welcomed key operators to Pittsburgh on FAMs (familiarization tours) as well as trained sales agents on our fall 2018 Sales Mission. Last year we were still introducing Pittsburgh, pitching our central geographic location and unique experiences. This year, we built upon our relationships with tour operators and sought additional itinerary placement in their catalogs, which are popular in Europe and inspire more travelers to visit our region from abroad.”
Maybe the most positive development is the British Airways announcement. The year-round service is an easy connection for European travelers. Additionally, Condor continues to offer nonstop seasonal service to Frankfurt from PIT, which also offers easy connections.
“So many tour operators and travel journalist have told us that unless you live in a major European city, you have to make a connection to reach the (United States),” Conaway said. “Additionally, with 5-7 weeks of vacation on average, our European travelers stay longer and visit more destinations in a trip. The US remains a top long-haul destination for them, and Pittsburgh is perfect for repeat visitors looking for a more authentic version of Americana to experience.”
International Travel Bourse (ITB), a trade show held in Berlin, Germany, draws more than 130,000 attendees annually.
Preliminary statistics are overwhelmingly positive. According to industry experts, German travel to the U.S. was down 7 percent in 2018 but up 3 percent to Pittsburgh, thanks, in part, to the Condor flight. It also projects total international visitation to Pittsburgh to increase by more than 20 percent over the next five years.
Still, Conaway and other Western Pennsylvania stakeholders know that not all the news concerning Pittsburgh and European tourism is positive. For example, WOW Air dropped service to Reykjavik and Delta dropped service to Paris and the issue of Brexit still is looming.
But perhaps an anecdote from the past can illustrate the future of European tourism in Pittsburgh.
The Berlin ExpoCenter City, where ITB is held, is about a mile from Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, which held the 1936 Summer Olympics. It was at those games that then-University of Pittsburgh freshman John Woodruff found himself boxed in by other runners during the 800-meter gold medal run.
To escape this dilemma and avoid interfering with other runners, Woodruff stopped, let every other runner pass, then ran to the outside, passed everyone else, and broke the tape to win the gold.
That race, won by a Western Pennsylvania native 83 years ago in Berlin, is a reminder to focus on the long-term strategy.
“All the trends are very positive especially having year-round service to a market and connecting hub such as London,” said Bryan Dietz, vice president, air service development, for the airport. “We will continue to work to match the needs of both the Pittsburgh region and visitors to our city with those of international airlines because we know that Pittsburgh has a lot to offer. As time moves, on we may have to pivot or evolve our strategies, but we’re in the race for the world to come see Pittsburgh and for Pittsburgh to see the world.”