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ITB Reflects Industry Optimism

March 12, 2007 By: Jennifer Merritt Travel Agent

BERLIN—A record-breaking 10,923 exhibitors from 184 countries gathered at the ITB convention and marketplace in Berlin March 7-11, where travel professionals met to network and discuss industry trends. ITB's optimistic atmosphere was attributed to a financially sound 2006 for the travel trade. "We're coming off the back of a record year for all segments of the travel business," said WorldHotels' CEO Michael Ball, whose company is looking to expand in the U.S. and China. ITB broke attendance records this year; trade entrance hall is shown

Hotel Expansions: Signs of a Strong Travel Industry

Of the roughly 1,722,000 square feet of space showcasing
such international exhibitors as tourist offices, technology providers and tour
operators, the most bustling by far was the hotel segment, whose
representatives gathered for appointments in opulent booths modeled after hotel
lobbies and bars.

At ITB, Hilton Hotels Corporation revealed aggressive growth
plans for Europe. The hotel company said it
anticipates adding 1,000 hotels within North America
in the next five years, and 1,000 hotels internationally over the next 10
years. Hilton this year will open 16 Hilton hotels in Europe and another nine
(including a Hilton Garden Inn in Frankfurt) by 2009, along the way entering
four new markets: Russia, Ukraine, Poland
and Portugal.
ITB this year broke records with nearly 11,000 exhibitors;
India is shown

Hilton said the U.K.
is being eyed for mid-market development and conversion opportunities, while Spain is being
considered for new builds and conversions. Italy
is a target for franchise opportunities, while Germany has potential growth for
new hotels in the mid-market sector. Russia is being seen as a country
with opportunities to develop full-service hotels.

To oversee this growth, the company opened four development
offices in Europe in late 2006 in Moscow, Vienna, Madrid and Frankfurt. The news comes on the heels of Hilton's
announcement that it is selling its Scandic hotel chain for $1.1 billion to
EQT, a private equity group with operations in northern Europe and greater China. Scandic
is the largest hotel operator in the Nordic region and operates full-service
hotels in the mid-market segment. Plans are for Hilton to maintain a Nordic
presence with six Hilton hotels: three in Finland
(including the Hilton Helsinki Vantaa Airport due to open in August 2007),
two in Sweden and one in Denmark at the Copenhagen airport.

WorldHotels' Ball said the company is looking to expand its
presence in the United
. "We are under-bedded in North
America," he said, noting that Chinese cities beyond Beijing
and Shanghai
are also on the company's to-do list. "There is so much domestic demand,
so we need to fill in a few gaps."

China is
also on the radar for Marriott International, which already has 34 properties
across China
and plans to open 12 more by 2009. At ITB, the hotelier reported $12.2 billion
in sales in 2006, attributing 24 percent to reservations made through its web
site. However, the company didn't neglect to mention its travel agent channel,
which Marriott said has been a steady performer for more than 10 years.

Meanwhile, Starwood Hotels & Resorts announced plans for
a 76-room W Hotel in Milan—the first W in Italy—which further represents the hotel operator's
aggressive growth outside the U.S.
The property will be a conversion, scheduled for December 2008. The W Milan is
one of seven recently announced W hotels scheduled to open in Europe, Africa
and the Middle East in destinations such as Istanbul,
Barcelona and St. Petersburg.

Starwood also announced its first timeshare products in Mexico.
Construction will start this year on the St. Regis Residence Club in Punta
Mita, as well as the Westin Los Cabos Ocean Villas, which will be built next to
the hotelier's existing Westin property, allowing villa owners access to the
hotel's amenities. Already under construction is the Westin Lagunamar Ocean
Resort in Cancun, expected to debut in 2008.

Also reflecting a financially sound travel industry, many tourism
offices reported an increased number of visitors in 2007. Many say numbers are
once again reaching pre-September 11 benchmark figures, and perhaps New York showcased the
best evidence. "In 2000, we had 36 million visitors," said George
Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company. "In 2001, we had 35.2 million visitors
and in 2002, we had 35.3 million. In 2006, we had a record-breaking 44 million
visitors." NYC & Company's goal is to attract 50 million visitors to New York City by 2015.
The organization is reaching out even more now to the international market,
opening offices recently in Spain,
Russia, Scandinavia and Amsterdam, more than
doubling its international presence in the past year.

Among the show's hot topics was youth travel, dubbed the
industry's fastest-growing sector, given that a fifth of all international
visitors around the world fall into the 16-24 age bracket. According to a study
by the World Youth & Student Educational Travel Confederation (WYSE)
younger travelers stay longer, spend more and participate in a broader range of
activities than average tourists. WYSE noted that fewer than one third of
tourism agencies worldwide have a marketing policy for this sector.

The future of travel was on everyone's minds: Seminars
discussed the effect of global warming on travel and the last day of the
conference was devoted to space travel.

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