Last updated: 10:08 AM ET, Mon April 25 2016

Could Uncertainty in Europe Hamper Germany's Tourism Ambitions?

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | April 25, 2016

Could Uncertainty in Europe Hamper Germany's Tourism Ambitions?

PHOTO: The famed statue of Lady Justice in Frankfurt. The city's infrastructure for business travel makes it well-suited to weather uncerainty over European travel. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock) 

The 2016 edition of German Travel Mart, held April 17 and 19 in the city of Magdeburg, took place in a very different atmosphere from previous years. The attacks in Brussels and Paris, both next door neighbors, were still fresh in people’s minds. Issues like the migrant crisis (which Germany is at the center of), the potential changes to the makeup of the European Union and uncertainties about the long term viability of the Schengen Agreement were all looming in the background. 

Tourism is still growing in Germany

The German National Tourist Board was quick to point out that despite everything that has happened in the past 12 months, the tourism industry is growing. Early in the event, GNTB CEO Petra Hedorfer took time to highlight the gains that Germany made in 2015. “Germany is proving to be an engine for growth, even in comparison to those countries in Europe that have traditionally been major tourist destinations. We are expecting that upward trend to continue in 2016.” 

Ms. Hedorfer did admit that recent events would probably temper expectations a bit going forward. “Because of various elements of uncertainty - including the security situation in Europe and around the world, the difficult conditions in parts of the global economy and the refugee crisis - our forecast is for a slightly slower growth rate….” 

2015's numbers paint a rosy picture 

The data does seem to back up the Tourist Board's optimism. Germany recorded an increase in the number of overnight stays by inbound visitors for the sixth consecutive year in 2015. The total number of overnights for the year was 79.9 million, which is an increase of 5.4 percent compared to 2014. Despite negative headlines dominating European media thus far in 2016, the numbers show that this growth is continuing. The GNTB has said that the volume of overnight stays increased by 6 percent in January and February compared to the same months last year. 

READ MORE: EU Sets Deadline for Border Patrol Plan

The importance of both European and overseas markets

It’s clear that Germany wants to build on these recent gains. That means luring tourists from new outbound markets and maximizing the number of people who come from places where Germany already has a well established image as a tourist and business travel destination. 

A majority of international visitors (nearly three out of every four) come from other countries in Europe. This regional market is important for Germany, not only for tourism but also for business travel. Conference and convention infrastructure is good throughout the country, especially in major commercial centers like Frankfurt.

When it comes to tourism, it is the overseas markets that are primed for the most growth. The number of arrivals from the United States was up by 5 percent in 2015, while China, South Korea, Taiwan and the Arab Gulf States each posted double-digit increases when it came to the year-on-year percentage of inbound travelers. 

Buyers from China, India and the Gulf were very well represented at this year’s GTM, so it is likely that the number of arrivals from East Asia, the Subcontinent and the Middle East will continue to grow in 2016 and beyond. 

Special events could make 2017 a record breaking year

Germany also has a number of upcoming events that could lead to a significant increase in the number of arrivals. The most heavily promoted event was the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant reformation. Historic towns like Quedlinburg and Wittenberg were highlighted for both buyers and journalists who attended the events.

It should be noted that even without ties to Martin Luther, Quedlinburg is a worthwhile destination. Large parts of the town manage to escape World War II bombs and communist-era bulldozers. Now, its growth as a tourist destination has led to an explosion in the conversion of old buildings into hotels and cafes.  

READ MORE: Germany Reaches Record Tourism Numbers

Religion and history aren’t the only reasons Germany will be a tourist hotspot next year;  documenta 2017 will take place between Jun 10 and Sept. 17 in the town of Kassel. This celebration of modern art has grown from a small event (first held in 1955) to a major celebration that drew 300 artists and 860,000 visitors when it was last held in 2012. 

Also, one of the most anticipated horticulture shows on earth will be coming to Berlin in 2017. The International Garden Show is only held once every 10 years. The size of Berlin’s famous Gardens of the World will be doubled during the event. As many as two million horticulture enthusiasts from elsewhere in Germany and around the world are expected to attend. 

Classic attractions will still be big for tourists from new markets

Classic attractions and activities like castle visits, Oktoberfest, summer river cruises, Christmas markets, shopping districts and a host of other stereotypical German attractions will also continue to play an important role in the industry, especially in emerging markets like China and India. 

Could anything slow tourism growth?

Germany has reason to be very optimistic, but it cannot ignore issues like Schengen and security. Because a vast majority of visitors come from neighboring EU countries, any changes to the current passport-free, visa-free travel model could significantly harm Germany's arrival numbers. This is arguably the most immediate danger for the tourism industry given the current disagreements about the migrant crisis and the call for better border security. 

For now, however, Germany’s rosy predications do not seem at all far-fetched, especially given the upcoming special events that will bring in additional tourists and put a brighter media spotlight on Germany. 

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