Some 50,000 tourism professionals from across the globe gathered in Madrid on Wednesday for a 5-day fair, one of the first such in-person events in Europe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organizers of the FITUR International Tourism Fair are expecting to welcome a total of 100,000 visitors through Sunday, half of them members of the public who will have access to the event during the weekend.
"It's important to take part, it's the first in-person fair taking place in Europe," said Aleksandra Desyatskova, of the Saint Petersburg-based Tari Travel Group.
"It's always better to communicate and do business in person," added Desyatskova, who was on her first business trip out of Russia since the start of the pandemic.
Still, the number of people attending the fair this year was greatly reduced because of the virus outbreak with virtually no festivities or events held.
Last year's fair took place in January, just before the pandemic hit, and attracted nearly 260,000 people.
"We depend heavily on the European market and as such we couldn't miss this," said Toni Chaves, head of the hotel association at Riviera Maya, near Cancun in Mexico.
"And this is also a way of showing that it's now possible and necessary to once again hold in-person events," he added.
Because of the pandemic, some of the conferences and debates, as well as some meetings among professionals, will be held online, organisers said.
"There will be fewer business meetings than usual, and many companies stayed behind in Guatemala for economic reasons and opted to take part online," said Marco Tulio Rodas, of the Guatemalan ministry of tourism.
He said his delegation this year was made up of nine companies, way down from 27 last year.
China has also limited its participation this year to representatives living in Spain because of travel restrictions.
The tourism fair was taking place as Europe and many other countries are coming out of lockdowns imposed because of the pandemic and as people across the globe are gearing up to travel again.
Tourism was one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourist arrivals are estimated to have fallen 74 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.