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Travel

'Germany is Europe's top cultural travel destination'

The world's biggest tourism trade fair, ITB, has just opened in Berlin. To find out why Germany is such a popular travel destination we spoke to Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board.

DW: The Federal Statistical Office in 2015 registered more overnight stays than ever before in Germany. Why is it such a popular travel destination?

Petra Hedorfer: The overall number of overnight stays has been constantly increasing and in 2015 climbed to record numbers, which pleased us a lot. The number of international overnight stays in 2015 was above average with some 80 million overnight stays or an increase of 5.4 percent on the preceding year. There are different reasons for this development. Germany has favorable structural prerequisites for this inbound tourism – among them is our central location in Europe, the excellent infrastructure and the comparatively good value for money.

ITB Petra Hedorfer

Petra Hedorfer, chief executive officer of the German National Tourist Board

On the other hand, our theme-based marketing has increased awareness of potential travel destinations and points of interest in Germany that might not have been common knowledge. This in turn opens up new markets as well as giving regular visitors new reasons to travel to our country.

Who comes here and from where?

The majority comes from Europe. Nearly three-quarters of all overnight stays in Germany are tourists from our own continent. The Netherlands traditionally take first place with a market share of 14 percent, followed by Switzerland with 8 percent. The most important intercontinental source country with a market share of 7 percent and taking third place is the United States. Also accounting for 7 percent of the market share but not quite able to match the U.S. volume, Great Britain takes fourth place. Continuing down the ranking there is Italy, Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium and Spain.

China and the Arab Gulf States, both having seen significant growth, are steadily moving up the ranking towards the top group. Numerous markets in Asia, like China, but also India, South Korea and Indonesia or, in Latin America, Brazil and Argentina, as well as smaller countries in the Balkan region, are emerging as they have a fast growing middle class that is distinctly spend-happy and keen on traveling. We want to tap into this potential.

What makes tourists want to visit Germany?

Culture and nature are the central elements that define the brand core of Germany as a travel destination. This is what draws travelers and at the same time they are the main focus of our theme-based marketing. Germany is the number one cultural travel destination for Europeans. Cultural and city tourism, especially in the metropolitan regions is very important. The large cities with over 100,000 inhabitants generate more than half (56 percent) of international overnight stays. Nearly all of the ten biggest German towns which form the marketing association "Magic Cities" have shown above average growth rates. Research shows that 42 percent of foreign tourists travel to Germany for a city break, while 27 define their travel here as a sight-seeing trip or a cultural holiday.

Health travel is becoming an increasing factor for inbound tourism to Germany. In 2015 the 350 high ranking health resorts and spas registered an increase of 5.4 percent accounting for 6.8 million overnight stays. The preceding year only marked growth of just over 1percent.

What are travelers to Germany particularly interested in?

Alongside cultural attractions, like the 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, sightseeing, shopping sprees, exhibitions and museums, as well as numerous events there has been a marked increase in interest by foreign tourists in nature and the countryside. Over a third of German territory is listed as national natural environments and therefore protected. This was the focus of our recent campaign "Holiday in the Heart of Nature in Germany."

Which cities, regions or sights are most popular?

The German states with the most international overnight stays are Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia. In the city destination rankings Berlin stands undisputed in first place (13.6 million, increase of 9.2 %), followed by Munich (6.9 million, increase of 5.0 %), Frankfurt am Main (3.9 million, increase of 7.1%) and Hamburg (3.1. million, increase of 5.9%).

Our National German Tourist Board online survey last year found that the top most popular travel destinations were the Europa Park in Rust, Neuschwanstein Castle and Cologne Cathedral followed by Heidelberg Palace and the old city center, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and the old town center of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

How well does Europe fare as a travel destination? How popular is the continent with global tourists?

Europe in 2015 was the biggest source and destination market in international tourism. Eurostat forecasts that according to recent estimates in 2015 there were 2.8 billion overnight stays, which is an increase of 3.2 percent. Here the international overnight stays with an increase of 3.5 percent is growing faster across Europe than domestic market (plus of 3.0 percent).

The majority of global foreign travel according to the World Travel Monitor by IPK stays within the continent of origin. This also applies to Europe. The IPK calculates that of Europe's 444 million outbound trips some 375 million are accounted for by intra-continental travel. (Numbers based on 2014.)

The World Tourism Organization long-term forecasts expect Europe to remain on the top spot as source and travel destination market for many years to come. Asia is also expected to continue high growth rates.

Does Germany benefit from established travel destinations like Egypt seeing a decline in tourist numbers over security concerns?

There is currently no discernible shift of tourists planning a trip to Egypt coming to Germany instead. Classic, traditional sun and beach destinations are surely more likely to benefit. Economic uncertainties on many markets and the risk of terror attacks do dampen travel enthusiasm - both in source market as well as destination countries.

What developments do you expect to see in 2016 in the travel market?

Further potential growth is possible in 2016. Our optimism is however overshadowed by the big challenges we will be facing with the refugee crisis, the growing hostility towards foreigners, the reintroduction of border controls within the Schengen-Agreement EU countries as well as the tense global economic situation. Therefore we are expecting a decrease in growth in the inbound tourism sector.