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Culture

Eastern German Tourism Hurt by Floods

After the record-high flooding in August, many cities in eastern Germany are struggling to recover from the devastation. The tourism industry in historic places like Dresden is particularly hard struck.

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Dresden's Semper Opera under water

Germany’s worst floods in the century left a grueling path of destruction in the country’s eastern federal states. Much of the region’s historic city centers, downtown shopping districts and meticulously-restored facades were severely damaged by the high water, mud and floating debris. Despite massive clean-up efforts and renovation projects, recovery is slow, especially for the tourism industry, one of the hardest hit business sectors in the region.

When the torrential rains started in August, the tourists stopped coming to the region. Top tourist attractions like Dresden incurred tremendous losses when the usually high number of overnight guests stayed away. And now that the historic city center with its Baroque palaces and renowned museums has been turned into one big clean-up zone, the tourists are continuing to stay away.

Dresden struggles to recover

Since August, hotels in Dresden have recorded almost 40 percent fewer overnight stays compared to 2001. For the tourism sector, one of the most important sources of revenue in Dresden – second only to the microprocessor industry – such losses are significant. There are approximately 20,000 people employed in the tourist branch, and many are worried that the combined cost of the floods and the slow return to normal levels of tourism could mean job cuts.

Yvonne Kubitza, manager of Dresden’s tourism and marketing company (Dresden Werbung und Tourismsus GmbH), says she and her colleagues have been fighting an uphill battle to make up for the losses that hotels accumulated right after the floods as thousands of tourists stopped coming to the city. Although the financial losses are significant, she does not expect the hotels to lay people off. Instead she thinks, the hotels will rely even more on their current staff.

“The hotels have actually decided not to fire people, but to renovate and restore, and they need the people working in the hotels to help renovate and restore the hotels themselves. We have 20,000 people working in tourism is Dresden, and I don’t think we’re going to lose a lot of jobs,” she told DW-RADIO.

Attracting tourists

The biggest problem Dresden’s tourism industry faces right now is attracting tourists back to the city.

Anke Viehrig, vice-president of the Dresden-based SAXACON destination management company for the state of Saxony, says that the cities throughout the region have done a good job in cleaning up the post-flood mess, and that tourists have no reason to stay away. Most of the state’s major tourist destinations, she adds, have been restored to their former splendor with the help of government emergency funds.

“Of course some towns have been badly affected, but the major tourist attractions have worked hard to come back,” Viehrig told DW-RADIO. “As tourism is a main income for the area, the state government, the city council, everyone, has been working hard to get the cities back functioning.”

“For the large part of Saxony, there’s no reason not to come,” Viehrig said appealing to tourists to give the city a chance to prove itself recovered.

Image campaign

Viehrig and her colleagues in the city’s tourist branch complain that while media crews were all over the place during the flooding, providing up-to-date coverage of damage done to the architectural treasures, hardly anyone is reporting on the good news about the swift restoration of these affected sites. Many tourists outside of Germany are still under the impression that Saxony is not worth a visit because of all the destruction left from the floods, she says.

In order to present a more positive image of Dresden, Kubitza’s tourism and marketing company has launched a large-scale Internet campaign to inform potential foreign visitors about the realities on the ground. Under www.dresden-tourist.de, tourists can click through the architectural wonders of the “Dresden Experience,” and see that the city is very much worth visiting, and that many of the popular sites like the Semper Opera and the Zwinger Museum have indeed recovered from the floods.

By praising the city’s attractions in a colorful English-language Web site, Kubitza and her colleagues hope to counter a lot of the misconceptions foreign tourists may have about visiting the city. “We try very hard to explain that we are dry, and that you can walk in the city,” she says. But it will take some time before people start returning to the city in pre-flood numbers.

“Visit Dresden, that’s the best help for the city,” Kubitza told journalists earlier in the month at the kick-off of the image campaign. And bring your cameras, she should have added.

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