Despite Challenges, Germany Expects Tourism To Grow

by Jessica Montevago
Despite Challenges, Germany Expects Tourism To Grow

Quedlinburg, Germany. Photo: Jessica Montevago

Tourism in Germany is on track to increase this year, despite the challenges, said the head of the German National Tourist Board.

At the 42nd annual Germany Travel Mart inbound tourism conference, CEO Petra Hedorfer said while recent events in Europe will affect tourism, the GNTB still predicts 1% to 3% growth. “It will slow down a little,” she said, “but we do believe there will be long-term demand.” Tourism last year increased about 5.4%.

Hampering this year’s growth are two major issues impacting the European Union as a whole: security concerns and the refugee crisis. Hedorfer said Germany’s transportation remains safe and unaffected, and is optimistic the travel industry “will be able to overcome these obstacles.”

Germany is becoming a popular destination for international travelers, and its largest overseas market is the United States. It is less expensive than other European hot spots like Paris and London, while still offering a mix of historical attractions and sightseeing.

Germany is now second only to France as the most popular destination in Europe. In 2015 it hosted more than 79 million overnight guests from abroad, marking a sixth consecutive record year for inbound tourism. That number has already increased by 6% for the first two months of this year.

Popular segments of travel
One especially hot segments is ancestry or heritage travel, where Germany ranks fourth in popularity out of 50 countries worldwide. Frankfurt has been attracting a generation looking to connect with its Jewish identity, mainly from Israel and the United States, Jasmin Bischoff, manager of international marketing, told TMR.

The Museum Judengasse just reopened after renovations. It covers the history and culture of Judaism from the 12th to 20th century. A branch to the Jewish Museum, the Museum Judengasse was built on several houses of the Jewish ghetto and documenting its history. The Jewish Museum Frankfurt will reopen at the end of 2018. Germany is an important part of Jewish history, with numerous museums and memorials honoring and remembering victims of the Holocaust.

There are close to 50 million German-Americans in the United States, and many are looking to travel to their native country. Bischoff said she works with agents and travelers to locate a family home from previous generations.

Germany is becoming a popular destination for international travelers, and its largest overseas market is the United States. It is less expensive than other European hot spots like Paris and London, while still offering a mix of historical attractions and sightseeing.

Martin Merta, from luxury tour operator Distinctly Deutschland, sees the interest in heritage travel as well. He said churches keep meticulous records, which he uses to help track down someone’s family history, and then tailors an itinerary around that.

Oliver Friedrich, a guide with Lutherstadt Wittenberg, said most of his tours of the Martin Luther memorials are for Americans. That trend is expected to continue into next year, as the city gears up for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Friedrich said as many as 350,000 visitors are expected to come celebrate the birth of their religion. Holding a massive jubilee celebration in October 2017, the city of Wittenberg will also have events leading up to the date.

Religious groups can tour important locations from Luther’s life, including the Wittenberg Castle Church, where he posted his theses, and the Luther House. The church, which is currently undergoing renovations, will reopen this fall.

Another sector driving travel to Germany is meetings and corporate trips. Nearly four million trips to conferences and conventions were made in 2015, up 8% from the previous year, and about three million visitors came for trade fairs and exhibitions.

Still, said Hedorfer, Germany is not just a business destination. “People think it’s the business segment that contributes to our boom, as a top destination for trade shows and such, but we’ve transformed to a holiday destination.”

Magdeburg takes the stage
As the host of this year’s GTM, Magdeburg used the opportunity to underscore the country in general, and the state of Saxony-Anhalt in particular, as Germany’s next “it” destination.

The state’s capital, Magdeburg is known as “the cradle of Germany” for being the center of the medieval world. It’s part of the “Romanesque Road,” which links churches, monasteries, cathedrals, and castles built during the Middle Ages across the region. Less than two hours from Berlin, tourists can bike along the Elbe River, visit the country’s first Gothic cathedral, or enjoy a play at the city’s renowned theater.

Outside of the city, Saxony-Anhalt offers its own attractions, including four UNESCO world heritage sites, one of which is the Luther sites. The state welcomed more than 550,000 overnight stays by international visitors in 2015, a 5.6% increase from the year prior.

Quedlinburg is known for its cobblestone streets and timber-framed houses. In 1994, the town and its castle were added as protected UNESCO sites. It’s also home to some of the country’s charming Christmas markets. The Bauhaus sites, representing modern architecture, were added in 1996, and the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Worlitz was added in 2000.

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