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Travel

Germany builds on its tourism boom

Big events attracted a record number of visitors to Germany in 2014. Still, tourism promoters will not rest on their laurels. What are their strategies to draw even more tourists this year?

On a February afternoon, people from around the world congregate at the Brandenburg Gate, one of the best-known landmarks in Berlin. They browse through guide books, pose alone or in groups for photos in front of the neoclassical triumphal arch. "I am really interested in history - the Cold War and the Third Reich," says Taylor from the USA. The following day, together with his girlfriend, he wants to drive to the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Fred, a young lady from Paris is visiting friends. She does not see herself as a tourist. "I really know this city and visit it regularly," she cheerfully explains in near perfect German. A few steps further, an older gentleman from Australia is describing the Berlin landmark to his wife: "The last time I came, all around here was a no-go area," he says.

More people than ever before came to visit Germany last year. Foreign visitors accounted for 75.5 million of the 424 million overnight stays. And that number is growing.

Big events in the capital

Berlin is and remains the top tourist destination in Germany. Its historical sights, diverse choice of cultural events and pulsating nightlife continue to attract visitors of all ages to the city. Berlin counted 28.7 million overnight stays last year, an increase of 6.7 percent from 2013. Nearly half of those were visitors from abroad.

Runners compete in the 40th Berlin marathon, passing by the Berlin Victory Column Copyright: REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

The Berlin marathon is very popular among runners from all over the world

Big events like public screenings during the soccer World Cup and more particularly the festivities marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall helped to attract people.

The "Lichtgrenze," a light installation marking the former location of the Berlin Wall, "proved hugely popular with visitors and gave us our best year in tourism yet," says Burkhard Kieker from the tourist company VisitBerlin. Photos of the light installation featuring 8,000 luminous white balloons lit up along the border formerly dividing the East and the West of Berlin went around the world. VisitBerlin hopes those images will continue to draw people to the city, much like the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary did five years ago.

Some of the major events taking place in the capital this year are new. The recently conceived Formula E series will have its German debut on May 23 at the former Tempelhof Airport. Organizers are reckoning with as many as 20,000 viewers when the electrically powered Formula racing cars gather at the starting line at this historic location. Shortly after, the soccer Champions League final will be held at the Olympic Stadium on June 6. In the autumn, as always, the Berlin marathon will be attracting professional and amateur athletes from around the world.

Russian visitors are staying away

Elegance from another time: Baden-Baden's Kurhaus dates back to 1824 Copyright: dpa

Elegance from another time: Baden-Baden's Kurhaus dates back to 1824

On the other side of the country, Baden-Baden has been adjusting to change. The spa town, already regularly visited by Dostoyevsky and Tsar Nicholas II, has been a destination favored by Russian visitors for many years. Now it is coping with the loss of its Russian tourists. The economic sanctions imposed on the country have resulted in a steady decline in the number of Russian visitors: 17.3 percent less of them came in 2014 than the previous year. Russians are especially important for Baden-Baden's tourism industry. They usually come for health reasons: their medical tests or treatments often lead to prolonged stays.

However, the deficit has been filled by a growing number of visitors from other countries. The freed capacities were filled by tourists from the USA and guests from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Their reasons for visiting are varied. "The Americans tend, most likely, to be looking for a dose of 'good old Germany,' whereas the Arab guests particularly enjoy the lakes and parks, many of which are within walking distance of hotels and can be safely enjoyed with children," says tourist office manager Brigitte Goertz-Meissner. Despite all the challenges, Baden-Baden finally clocked up 976,000 overnight stays last year, which is an increase of 2.8 percent.

Munich discovers its niche appeal

A gay couple kisses at Christopher Street Day in Munich. Copyright: Felix Hörhager/dpa

On Christopher Street Day gays and lesbians demonstrate for more solidarity

The number of visitors in Munich has steadily increased over the past twelve years. Last year, some 13.4 million overnight stays were counted, an increase of 4.3 percent. The Bavarian capital, famous for its beer gardens and the Oktoberfest, is venturing down new paths to build on this success. The Munich tourist office's long term plan is to redefine the profile of the city. Over the next decade, as the tourist office spokesperson Susanne Mühlbauer explained, Munich will be promoted as Europe's most attractive city, where taste, culture and enjoyment meet. In other words, Munich aims to become the top destination for discerning travelers.

To attain this goal, Munich is increasingly focusing on niche markets, like the gay and lesbian scene. People in this target group tend to travel several times a year and spend considerable amounts of money. They account for 415 million of the 6.9 billion euro (7.74 billion $) annual tourism turnover. Apart from economic considerations, Munich also wants to promote its cosmopolitanism and open-mindedness. It was the first German city to join the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) in 1998. Munich also recently commissioned an online survey on the gay and lesbian community's travel preferences to better meet the demands of this target group. First results of that study are expected at the end of March.

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