Despite concerns over terror threats and civil wars, Germans still like to travel. But booking numbers are down. As the world's largest tourism fair, ITB, gets underway in Berlin, the industry is concerned.
The German travel industry has a new favorite word: security. That is because a lack of security in many destinations is putting a lot of Germans off booking their summer holidays. "As a result, guests wait, weigh it up and book hesitantly," says Michael Frenzel, Chairman of the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry (BTW), before the opening of the world's largest tourism fair, ITB, in Berlin.
Fear of terrorism, the refugee crisis or political upheaval are affecting countries once considered paradise: A recent study by the GfK consumer research group found that by the end of January, one million fewer Germans had booked themselves a summer get-away than in 2015.
Chairman of the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry, Michael Frenzel, hopes for a pick up in the number of bookings
The industry is still hoping for a speedy turnaround on that trend. "People might not be sitting on their packed suitcases yet, but I am sure that they will still pack their bags," says Michael Frenzel.
Mediterranean destinations hard hit
It is countries like Egypt, Tunisia or Turkey in particular which are finding that German tourists are no longer the safe bet they once were. Bookings for summer breaks in Turkey have plummeted by 40 percent.
That is despite the fact that in 2015 Turkey came in at number three on the list of Germany's most popular holiday destinations. "The reluctance of many customers is often due to recent terrible events, making them question the security of certain places," says Norbert Fiebig, President of the German Travel Association (DRV).
Ironically, the fear of terrorism could also strike the ITB's partner country this year, the Maldives. According to a GfK report, the island state in the Indian Ocean also recorded a decline in bookings. That is despite the fact that violent Islamists pose no greater threat to the Maldives than in other countries - something the country's Tourism Minister Moosa Zammer is all too aware of. He hit back at media reports suggesting a terror risk, calling them a "political campaign to tarnish the reputation of the Maldives."
More Germans travelling than ever before
Despite a tail-off in bookings, the travel industry remains optimistically cautious. “It is not a question of general travel weariness,” says Norbert Fiebig. The German economy is on the travel industry's side, with low unemployment and rising incomes among many Germans. But whether the travel industry can match 2015's strong performance remains in question. The Germans recorded 1.67 billion private travel days last year. That works out at every German being away from home for 21 days. Germany also grew in popularity as a destination: With 436 million overnight stays the travel industry can safely say 2015 was a good year.
The travel industry is worried about Europe, though. An increase in the number of refugees has seen some European states reintroduce border controls. If the Schengen zone were to be abolished, it would have an impact on the tourism industry. "We support all political initiatives to preserve the freedom to travel, as opposed to building new borders, which would be harmful not only to the economy as a whole, but also the tourism industry in particular," says Michael Frenzel.
The refugee crisis will also be a topic on ITB's agenda, albeit from a different angle. The tourism industry will present itself as a potential employer for refugees - 30 percent of employees in the German tourism industry come from an immigrant background already.
Record number of exhibitors on 50th anniversary
Crisis in the tourism industry is not a crisis for ITB, the world's largest tourism fair. For the trade show's 50th anniversary, a record 10,000 exhibitors from 180 countries and regions have signed up. In 1966 the fair started with just nine exhibitors from five countries. This year´s ITB runs until 13 March.