Saxony Seeks Re-Entry: One on One with Hans-Jürgen Goller
As the eastern parts of German rise in prominence, perhaps the two brightest stars after Berlin are both cities in the state of Saxony, Dresden and Leipzig. Saxony deserves to shine a bit brighter with American travelers. This part of Germany shares a mixed history with Poland, which runs along its border. Ironically, American travel to Saxony has been most connected to the horrendous bombing of Dresden during World War II.
As Dresden lifted itself up out of the postwar ash heap, the great symbol of that revitalization was the Frauenkirche in the city center. American contributions contributed mightily to the church’s restoration, which was completed in 2005. We caught up with Hans-Jürgen Goller, the managing director of the Tourism Marketing Company of Saxony.
TravelPulse: How is the U.S. market performing for Saxony?
Hans-Jürgen Goller: The peak of awareness of Saxony in the United States came between 2002 and 2008 and it was centered on the restoration of the Frauenkirche. The church kept Dresden front of mind for several years. Unfortunately, that awareness was followed by the financial crisis of 2008 and the U.S. hasn’t recovered to where it had been as a market for Saxony. I know from my meetings at USTOA that when the crisis happened, the tour operators retreated to their traditional itineraries of Paris and London. They were less willing to open up new ground. The U.S. was among our top markets until the financial crisis, but today Holland and Switzerland are our strongest markets.
TP: We hear that Leipzig is the new Berlin for hip travelers?
HG: Dresden is still on everyone’s list, but Leipzig is hurting. The Leipzig art scene was being hyped in the U.S. and that’s been a help, but these visitors come for just a day. We’ll still participate in the USTOA, but we are finding that increasingly those meetings have changed. At the USTOA meetings we used to get appointments with CEOs; that’s not as true these days. Since 2010 we are more likely to only get an appointment with secondary figures in the companies.
TP: The U.S. economy is healthy again; can’t the market be revived for Saxony?
HG: The bottom line is this, the U.S. will always be our most important market and so we do a lot with the German National Tourism Organization to reach it. We believe we have to do more than we do normally for other markets in the U.S. We will be involved with such partners as USTOA, Avanti Destinations and the Signature Travel Network to try to make that market healthy. We continue to provide seed money, but the figures don’t add up. We are very active in our marketing. It’s almost 40 percent of our budget, which is probably the highest of all the German states.
TP: Poland is a growing destination for American travelers; are you exploring joint marketing with your Polish neighbors?
HG: We have done some joint marketing in the so-called “Oder Project.” It’s all very nice on paper. We jumped at it, but in practice it remains a difficult sell. Wroclaw (Poland) will be a European Capital of Culture in 2016 (along with San Sebastian, Spain), but will only produce a minimal impact on arrivals in Saxony. We do better by stressing our proximity to Berlin.
TP: How about Elbe River cruising?
HG: Elbe river cruising, which operates April to October, has a minimal impact for us because they sleep on the ships. They’re not even part of our statistics. The cruises run from Hamburg to Dresden to Prague.
TP: What’s your message to travelers and their agents?
HG: Everyone who comes to Saxony loves it, but we need to reach those who don’t know us. Most people don’t know us like they know Berlin.
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