Every March in Germany's capital city, the world's travel community descends en masse on ITB Berlin - the leading international trade fair. A whirlwind of destinations, tour offerings and travel technology, ITB hosts over 10,000 exhibitors from more than 180 countries over five days - while simultaneously welcoming over 110,000 trade visitors.
This year marked the first year that an Ireland Travel Technology Pavilion featured at ITB. Coordinated by Enterprise Ireland's Düsseldorf team, the Pavilion gave five travel technology companies - Mobacar, Monex, P3 Hotels, Roomex and Travaplan - the opportunity to host meetings, create new links with the burgeoning industry, and demonstrate their 'Irish Advantage' in action.
The Irish entry proved timely, as the travel technology sector is ITB's fastest-growing segment. Previously covering four halls, there are now six dedicated to technological innovations, with 18pc of exhibitors focused on travel tech in 2018.
A city renowned for its technical prowess, it is fitting that ITB reigns from Berlin. Germany itself is Europe's largest travel market, with gross bookings reaching €61.4bn in 2018.
"What was evident at ITB 2019 was that Ireland and its travel technology cluster were very much on the international stage in Berlin - in terms of our companies as thought leaders and also positioning Ireland as a centre of excellence in this sphere," said Jane Greene, Enterprise Ireland's senior market adviser for software and services in Düsseldorf.
The travel technology sector is broad in nature, encompassing the wide range of technological solutions that assist travellers in all aspects of journey decisions - from initial reservation on a booking website or online travel agency (OTA) to car rental or itinerary management. It also includes technology that assists behind the scenes, such as payment solutions, global distribution systems, and compliance.
With tourism now the world's third-largest export industry, solutions are gaining traction as they disrupt traditional processes. Currently, travel and tourism forms 10pc of global GDP, supporting one in 10 jobs globally.
Choosing a far-flung holiday destination is becoming commonplace due to ease of access, with 2017 marking the highest growth in international tourist arrivals in seven years. The Irish tourism industry generated over €5bn in 2018, a rise of 5.6pc.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that technology-powered solutions have come to the fore, enabling companies to capitalise on the increased volume of journeys booked annually. The travel industry is full of opportunities for Irish companies, opportunities that they are increasingly being taking advantage of.
In 2018, 107 travel tech companies were active in Ireland with a combined total of 12,500 employees. Homegrown companies continue to cement their status as leaders in the global market, with companies including BookAssist, Boxever and City Wonders setting the standard for competitors worldwide.
The increased presence of multinationals in Ireland is further evidence of the strength of the hub, with widely recognised companies like Uber and Airbnb choosing Ireland as a base in Europe.
Kevin O'Shaughnessy is founder of Cityhook, one of the first aggregators of taxis, trains and buses worldwide, and leader of Dublin's Travel Massive, a network of travel insiders in 150 cities. Kevin is one of the strongest advocates for Ireland's role in the industry. "I'm adamant Ireland is the incubator for travel technology. We're just very, very good at it," he says, citing Hostelworld, OpenJaw and CarTrawler as examples of this expertise.
Karl Glennon, CTO of Roomex, a dedicated hotel-booking platform for business travellers, echoes this sentiment: "The mix of companies here is a perfect environment for innovation, as ideas and learnings are shared across the various businesses.
"Not only are global organisations allocating some of their investment locally but homegrown companies like Roomex are leading this movement of innovation as they expand into international markets."
Enterprise Ireland's Düsseldorf office is on hand to guide Irish companies interested in exploring travel technology opportunities in the German market.