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German travel sector disappointed by the sustained lockdown

Felix Schlagwein
March 23, 2021

While flights to the popular holiday island of Mallorca are still possible, domestic tourism is to be put on hold. The industry has reacted with incomprehension. Many are facing bankruptcy.

Coronavirus - Aachen
The Easter holiday will take place under coronavirus lockdown rules in Germany ― much to the anger of the ailing hospitality sectorImage: Roberto Pfeil/dpa/picture alliance

Late into the night, the meeting of Germany's 16 state premiers wrangled over travel restrictions. The result: There won't be any chance of spending a few days in a vacation apartment or enjoying a cup of coffee on a restaurant terrace.

In vain, the leaders of Germany's coastal states had demanded the possibility of a "low-contact vacation" over Easter. Instead, the current resolution now states: "The federal government and the states continue to urgently appeal to all citizens to refrain from nonessential travel within Germany and also abroad, also with regard to the upcoming Easter holidays." Hotels, campsites, vacation homes, restaurants and cafés will therefore remain closed until further notice.

Germany, Düsseldorf airport, people queuing to check-in to flights to Mallorca
Queuing for a flight to Mallorca is allowed, while in Germany vacation homes remain emptyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kusch

Travel to Mallorca still allowed

The contentious trips to Mallorca, on the other hand, remain possible. The German government last week removed Germany's favorite holiday island from the list of risk areas and lifted the travel warning due to a sharp drop in the number of infections. This also removed the requirement that people returning from the island to have to be tested and quarantined.

There will still be no mandatory quarantine for returnees from non-risk areas such as Mallorca. However, airlines are to test passengers and crew before departing for Germany. Travel associations had previously voiced their opposition to a quarantine requirement. Accordingly, the German Travel Association (DRV) welcomed the outcome of the federal-state summit regarding foreign travel. At the same time, DRV President Norbert Fiebig called for domestic travel to be allowed again where it was "justifiable from a health point of view".

Mallorca braces for tourists

Tourism sector: Further lockdown a disaster for us

The current resolution, however, does not provide for this. True, there is a chance that some states will approve certain "low-contact" travel, because the resolutions reached at the federal-state conference are merely guidelines. Still, the tourism and hospitality industry is sorely disappointed. "Once again, this was a devastating result for us," says Michelle Schwefel of the German Holiday Home Association (DFV) in an interview with DW. She says it's "absurd" that Germans are allowed to fly to Mallorca but can't vacation in their own country for a few days in a vacation home." Other industries are handled with kid gloves and we are simply shut down for months," Schwefel said.

Daniela Disse also criticizes the imposed travel restrictions. She runs the "Paulfeld" campsite in the Thuringian Forest. "This is a disaster for us, there's no other way to put it," Disse said in an interview with DW. For months, she added, they have had a hygienic plan in place, their camping guests are largely self-sufficient, and the risk of infection is therefore very low. "For me, it is incomprehensible that there is not even a small opening or easing of the rules," said Disse.

Aerial view of camping site Paulfeld, Germany
Daniela Disse's campsite "Paulfeld" in the Thuringian Forest was usually fully booked ― today guests are not allowed to comeImage: Campingplatz Paulfeld

Demand for opening prospects, new financial support

The German Tourism Association (DTV) takes a similar view. The CEO of the association, Dirk Dunkelberg, described in an interview with German public radio (SWR) "anger, annoyance and despair" in view of the new travel restrictions. He added that the mood in the industry was critical, partly because politicians had still not presented a plan for a strategy to open up again. The German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga) called for concrete opening plans for the industry by April 12 at the latest. "After yesterday's decisions, despair and fears for the future are growing in the hospitality industry," Dehoga President Guido Zöllick said in a press release. More than 70% of the businesses feared for their survival. Zöllick therefore demanded quick compensation payments from the state.

Exterior aerial view of a hotel facade and empty hotel pool
The hotel "Zur Post" on the German Baltic Sea island of Usedom must remain closed like all other guest houses until further noticeImage: Jens Büttner/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

In fact, the financial situation facing many businesses is crushing. The fact that now, as last year, the Easter season has been cancelled, means heavy losses for them, says campsite owner Disse. She continues to have high fixed costs, the COVID financial assistance in place is not sufficient and payments are often delayed.

Michelle Schwefel of the German Holiday Home Association also complained in an interview with DW about the lack of financial prospects for the tourism industry. After all, in June, the state subsidies for the pandemic will end. "We don't know what will happen after that, and we wonder when we will get an answer from politicians," says Schwefel.

The fact that the COVID-19 crisis is having a particularly dramatic impact on the travel industry has been confirmed by the Munich-based Ifo economic research institute. It said a recent survey showed that "hotels, restaurants and travel agencies in particular" are under pressure due to the coronavirus crisis. "Many companies are experiencing cash flow bottlenecks, which could lead to more bankruptcies," Ifo expert Klaus Wohlrabe said in a press release issued by the institute.

Germans' appetite for travel remains low

Even if there is great lack of understanding in the tourism and hospitality industry, it has become apparent that most Germans would actually prefer to stay at home anyway, at least during the Easter break, due to the increase in infection rates. In a recent survey by the opinion research institute YouGov, 79% of respondents said they did not want to travel. Only 4% want to travel domestically and only 2% want to go abroad.

So, Easter this year will for most people in Germany spent at home. On April 12, German state premiers will meet again for further talks.  Perhaps the hospitality industry will have a chance then.