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Business

Blue Skies Ahead for German Travel Industry

The 3-day International Cologne Tourist Fair takes off Friday, with experts predicting that 2005 will be smooth sailing for the travel industry.

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Germas are ready to hit the road to visit exotic sites again

Some 40,000 visitors will be descending on Cologne to take a look at what 917 suppliers from 44 countries will be offering the consumer in 2005. This year's focus is on spas, health and fitness vacations, as well as winter sports.

Tour operators, travel agencies, package holiday companies, specialists and tourist offices from Germany and abroad will be presenting a wide range of both domestic and foreign destinations, with a special emphasis on eastern Europe.

"The defining industry of the 21st century"

After a couple of years in the doldrums, the German travel industry is now looking forward to a turn in its fortunes.

According to Klaus Laepple from the Federal Association of the German Tourist Industry (BTW), airlines and travel companies are expecting 5 percent growth and annual sales of €27,8 billion ($37 billion) this coming year -- an improvement of €800 million ($1 billion) compared to the previous year.

Moreover, experts say it's going to keep getting better, with the travel sector becoming, in Laepple's words, "the defining industry of the 21st century."

The call of the sea

For the time being, it looks like the industry has weathered the post 9/11 slump. Germans are hitting the road again, with 135 million trips booked in 2004, including 60 million short breaks. 30 percent of vacations were domestic, but destinations including Egypt, Asia, Bulgaria, North America, Romania, Turkey and Tunisia were also hot contenders. 2004's losers were EU countries such as Greece, Italy, the Canary islands, Austria and Portugal -- which proved less popular primarily on account of high prices.

Queen Elizabeth 2

The British cruiseliner "Queen Elizabeth 2" leaves the port of Hamburg, northern Germany, on Sunday, July 5, 1998 on its way to New York. The ship, owned by the british shipping company Cunard, can carry 1.800 passengers and 1.000 crew members and is 293,5 meters (880 feet) long and 62 meters (186 feet) heigh. The "Queen Elizabeth 2" came to Hamburg for a one-day visit. (AP Photo/Chritof Stache)

Last year's surprise hit was the cruise vacation. Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Laepple pointed out that 300,000 vacationers treated themselves to a river cruise in the last business year (up to Oct. 31), while double that number sampled the delights of an ocean cruise. He added that holidays offered on what's known in the industry as "fun ships" have succeeded in attracting younger customers.

New challenges

So it's good news for the industry and good news for the consumer.

"Prices will remain stable and attractive," stressed Laepple. The predictions are independent of plans announced by Transport Minister Manfred Stolpe to introduce kerosene tax on airlines as a way of making train travel more competitive.

The proposal found backing among travel companies, including TUI. Now, several other companies are considering introducing kerosene tax on package vacations due to the rising cost of air fuel.

Laepple also said that the increased number of Internet bookings is an interesting challenge for travel offices.

"Internet bookers will be looking for offers which save time," the head of BTW explained.

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