The start of the world's biggest travel fair in Berlin was overshadowed by the bombings in Madrid. Despite this latest attack, travel industry experts predict an upturn in tourism as Germans rediscover their wanderlust.
Industry experts say this will be the year of long-distance destinations.
Germans are normally thought of as travel-happy people, exploring far-flung corners of the globe on their holidays. But in recent years, the Sept.11 terror attacks, the bomb attacks on Bali and Tunisia, the Iraq war, as well as the SARS outbreak and an economic downturn at home have seen Germans favoring vacations in their own backyard.
One of the top-selling songs of last summer -- "Zu Hause" -- was an homage to the new trend, extolling the benefits of a cheap holiday at home.
But tourism experts at this year's ITB travel fair in Berlin say the industry is poised to recover from the beating it's taken since 2001, despite the latest security fears reverberating across Europe in the wake of Thursday's bomb attacks in Madrid.
The German travel operators' federation DRV said it expected 3 to 5 percent more turnover in 2004, despite lower prices for holidays.
"The tourism engine is running again," said DRV head Klaus Laepple. He predicted that 2004 will be the year of the long-haul destination, as the strong euro makes holidays in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia more affordable for Germans. "The catalogue prices for these destinations have sunk by 20 percent or more," he said.
2003 a "black year"
But the German Tourism Industry Federation BTW struck a more cautious tone ahead of the ITB, warning that while this year should put an end to the tourism downturn, it won't be able to make up for the losses of the past year.
In 2003, the German market -- one of the most important markets worldwide for the package holiday industry -- shrank by about 5 percent. Globally, the number of tourists fell last year by 1.2 percent, a "black year" for tourism, according to the head of the World Tourism Organization, Francesco Frangialli.
At the ITB, which runs from March 12 - 16, Germans planning to travel abroad can whet their appetite for dream destinations. More than 10,000 exhibitors are on hand representing 178 countries.
The ITB is the world's biggest tourism fair and will be open until March 16, 2004.
Germany still top destination
The fair will also focus on special segments of the travel market such as cruises, cultural tourism, trips aimed at the senior citizens' or youth market, and wellness tourism. The 10 new Eastern European countries set to join the EU in May will also be well-represented this year in the hope of attracting more revenue from tourism.
But one of the main criteria for Germans when booking a holiday remains price, one of the reasons that Germany is still their favorite destination. According to a vacation trends poll conducted by the German automobile association, ADAC, 28 percent of respondents said they intended to spend most of their vacation time in 2004 right here at home.