All Eyes on Germany

At the Germany Travel Mart, Germany looks to boost tourism after a successful FIFA

By: By Anne Burke

Germany’s soccer squad may have been knocked out of a berth in last year’s Berlin finals but the games nevertheless scored a big victory for the country’s tourism industry.

Germany’s success as host of the June-July 2006 soccer championship sexed up the country’s image from that of a staid venue for business meetings into a happening destination for holidaymakers looking for interesting sights, fun and good food, according to Petra Hedorfer, chief executive officer of the German National Tourist Board.

“A large proportion of people who came for the games said they wanted to come back,” Hedorfer said at the 33rd annual Germany Travel Mart, which recently wrapped up in the capital city.

Overnight stays by foreign visitors from January to May, 2007, are up 7.3 percent over the previous year. That puts Germany well on pace to meet a year-on-year goal of 5 percent growth in overnight stays by international guests, after adjusting for World Cup attendance. The United States is Germany’s most important overseas market.

“These are sensational figures,” Hedorfer said at a press conference during the annual trade fair, the biggest sales event for inbound tourism in Germany.

Due to its well-developed transportation and technological infrastructures, Germany traditionally attracts a disproportionate share of business travelers compared to its European neighbors.

But good buzz from the World Cup attendees, who were more interested in hoisting a glass of Pils than finding a wireless hotspot, have helped boost the country’s standing in the leisure market, Hedorfer said. Germany recently edged out Italy as the number two cultural destination for European travelers, behind France, she said.

Germany hopes to close the gap with France by trumpeting its rich cultural, architectural and historical heritage, as well as its vibrant sports and contemporary art scenes.

The country especially has its eye on visitors from Paris. This summer, the high-speed InterCityExpress train, known as ICE, started whisking passengers from the City of Light to Frankfurt in less than four hours two hours faster than the EuroCity train.

In coming years, Germany will target the swelling number of over-55 travelers looking for spa holidays and medical treatment, Hedorfer said. The tourism chief said that Germany offers good value compared to its EU neighbors when it comes to wellness holidays. The average rack rate for two nights with half board and two beauty treatments at a four-star property in Germany costs $317 per person, compared with $434 in Spain and $497 in France, Hedorfer said.

The Germany Travel Mart attracted more than 360 exhibitors and 630 international buyers and media representatives. Berlin Germany’s most popular international destination ahead of Munich and Frankfurt co-hosted the travel mart with neighbor Potsdam. Known as the Beverly Hills of Germany, Potsdam is home of Schloss Cecilienhof, the former home of Kaiser Wilhelm II where Truman, Stalin and Churchill met in 1945.

The historic castle will be among venues spotlighted next year, when Germany’s annual tourism theme will be palaces, parks and gardens.