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Business

Germans Opt to Stay Home Amid Global Uncertainty

As U.S.-led military action against Iraq continues, the German tourism industry is bracing itself for the effects of a nation turned travel shy.

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Airports like Cologne-Bonn could see fewer travelers this summer.

In a report published by the European Institute for Tourism (ETI) on Monday, 41 percent of the German population said it feared a terrorist attack on holiday. So it is perhaps not surprising that almost a third of Germans say they would sooner stay at home this year than run the risk of taking a vacation.

In the past three months, the number of Germans afraid to travel rose by more than ten percent -- a figure likely to climb with the onset of war in Iraq. But the war itself isn’t unsettling would-be travelers as much as a deep-seated concern that heading abroad might make them a target for terrorists. Attacks in Djerba, Tunisia and Bali, Indonesia over the past year claimed the lives of more than 20 German tourists.

The ETI believes this fear, which half of German citizens share, is having the greatest influence on travelers as they make their summer holiday plans.

With a high standard of living and an average six weeks annual paid leave, Germans are some of the world’s biggest globetrotters. But even those who say conflict and terrorism will not get in the way of their annual sojourn in the sunshine are being more selective about their vacation destination this year.

Over 80 percent said they would not visit Turkey and Egypt during a war. Results for other top German holiday destinations including Tunisia, Morocco and the United States were not far behind. Almost half said they would keep their distance from Great Britain throughout the crisis.

Package tour operators hardest hit

Already suffering in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States, the travel industry has had to become even more flexible with the outbreak of war in Iraq. Hardest hit have been the large companies, such as package tour operators TUI and Thomas Cook, which buy holidays in bulk to sell to sun-seeking customers far in advance. With global uncertainty keeping people from making early reservations this year, companies are now slashing prices to catch the imagination of still undecided travelers.

Some travel agents have also begun offering apprehensive passengers intending to travel to countries close to the fighting an option to rebook at no additional cost. But the Association for German Travel Agencies and Tour Companies (DRV) said there was no guarantee that passengers could be able to back out of vacation plans without incurring fees.

"As long as the foreign ministry does not issue a travel warning, travel agents are not obliged to cover the costs of cancellation as a result of the war in Iraq," said DRV spokeswoman Sybille Zeuch.

With many Germans holding off making vacation plans to see how the situation in Iraq develops, last-minute travel operators are hoping to gain where the package tour groups stand to loose. By one estimate, some 12 million Germans will opt for spur-of-the moment vacations this year, with companies such as L'Tur or 5 vor Flug.

Opportunity for Germany

Herbst am Timmendorfer Strand

Timmendorfer beach on the Baltic coast.

Despite Germany’s strong opposition to the war, 33 percent of Germans still fear terrorism on their own soil, according to the European Institute for Tourism report. But ETI manager Bert Hallerbach believes the conflict overseas opens up a great opportunity for Germany’s domestic tourist industry.

“It’s a huge chance for regions in the countryside where there’s a small likelihood for attacks,” said Hallerbach.

And 75 percent of those surveyed by ETI said that Germany has become a genuine alternative vacation destination, with focus on tradition hot spots on the coasts along the North and Baltic Seas and the Alpine region.

That could end up making the summer holidays at home a crowed affair, characterized more by traffic jams and overfilled hotels than sun and surf.