Sometimes my job in the travel trade industry can get a bit surreal. In 30 minutes’ time, I tooled around in a go-cart, erupted with laughter as my colleague attempted to pilot a tractor, watched a dance floor of Europeans get down to blaring electronic music and was handed a fish sandwich and a local beer. The night only got more curious from there but, one thing was certain, the Germany Travel Mart (GTM) sure knows how to throw a party.
Seaside Rostock was the host of this
year’s GTM. // © Skye Mayring
The 2009 GTM, hosted annually by different German cities or regions, was held on May 10-12 in the Hanseatic City of Rostock. A key port of former East Germany, Rostock is the largest city in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania (or MeckPomm to those in the know) and a top domestic tourist destination — especially in the summertime, when Berliners trade hustle and bustle for the wide, white beaches of the Baltic coast. A city with about 800 years of history, Rostock is well known for its beautiful, traditional houses and castles — after all, it is located in the state that has Germany’s highest concentration of castles and manor houses, 300 of which are used as tourist destinations. The city of Rostock is also known for hosting the beloved Hanse Sail Rostock (Aug. 6-9 this year), a free maritime festival that attracts 1 million people annually.
This year marked the 35th annual GTM, and the German National Tourist Board (GNTB), along with its partners, worked hard to outdo themselves in years past: The red carpets were unfurled, the seckt uncorked and the mood was set for an elaborate opening-night ceremony, held at the Rostock City Hall.
After cocktails and a dance and musical revue, Ernst Hinsken, the Federal Government Commissioner for Tourism, Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, touched on the economic crisis and its impact on global tourism but remained optimistic about the industry that has endured wars, terrorism and other crises.
Although hopeful, Petra Hedorfer, the CEO of the GNTB, said she expects a “growth hiatus” in 2009 tourism to Germany. And although Germany showed an overall 2 percent increase in overnight stays last year, the Federal Statistical Office Germany noted a 4 percent decrease in overnight stays in February 2009 compared to last year’s numbers. There were 9.4 percent fewer passengers arriving at Germany’s airports in March 2008, compared to last year, she said.
“However, history shows that every crisis has been followed by recovery, and every boom outweighs the bust. It may be a slow build but, through effective, targeted marketing campaigns, Germany will still be able to net 66 million overnight stays from abroad travelers in 2015,” she told the international press during the GTM media conference.
Germany is perhaps a more stable product because it remains one of the lesser expensive European destinations. Top hotel prices in major German cities, for example, hover at just under $150 a night. And presently on the GNTB’s Web site, ComeToGermany.com/SpecialOffers, a number of packages are available for less than $140.
“We believe that the tourism industry will be a huge economic factor in the future,” said Hedorfer. “And I promise that you won’t be disappointed by this year’s GTM.”
With two days packed with meetings and workshops, a culinary night held at a local theme park and post-convention tours highlighting everything from Bauhaus architecture to seaside cycling tours — the GTM 2009 did anything but disappoint.
And how could they? This is a milestone year for Germany as it celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany.
Hedorfer reflected on that very momentous night in November of 1989.
“I was visiting friends in Italy, and we watched everything unfold on the evening news. We celebrated with champagne, sang songs and danced. It was a great moment,” she told TravelAge West. “Over the years we’ve come together, unified and become a land without borders.”
The city of Berlin will commemorate the 20th anniversary with several celebrations in the coming months, culminating in an open-air exhibition at Alexanderplatz square on Nov. 9, when concerts and a street party at the Brandenburg Gate will take place.
Some Berlin schoolchildren will play a special part in the Nov. 9 street party, when they design a massive domino display along the former border. The ripple of dominoes will fall onto the Brandenburg Gate, triggering a massive firework display.
In addition, Many of Berlin’s museums will host exhibitions to educate visitors about the reunification of Germany. For instance, the Deutsch Kinemathek — a cinematic and digital arts museum in Potsdamer Platz — is presenting the “Moments in Time 1989/1990” exhibition of film, photography and archived television clips through Nov. 9.
Looking ahead to some of the biggest events in Germany in 2010, Oberammergau will stage its 2,000-performer version of the life and death of Christ — occurring every 10 years since the early 17th century — from May 15 through Oct. 3. And Munich will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Oktoberfest from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3. (This year’s Oktoberfest in Munich begins on Sept. 19 and ends on Oct. 4.)
As for next year’s GTM, it will take place in the Rhine-Main region of Germany, near Frankfurt and Wiesbaden on April 18-20. I’m not sure how they can possibly top this year’s travel mart, but you can bet that my curiosity is piqued.