Already getting ready for the time after the coronavirus crisis? Yes, say tourism experts in Germany. Some are renovating, others are planning marketing measures for next year. What else can they do?
The low spring sun makes the Brandenburg Gate appear even more imposing. Perhaps Berlin's landmark is also so impressive these days because there are hardly any people on the Pariser Platz in front of it. Locals on their way to work or for an early morning run in the adjacent Tiergarten. Some of them stop to capture this unusual scene with their smartphones.
Berlin without tourists
The main hotel on the square is also empty. Since April 1, employees at the Hotel Adlon on Pariser Platz in Berlin have had to be released on Kurzarbeit, or short time working. This scheme enables companies drastically affected in a downturn to either send their workers home or significantly reduce their hours without having to lay them off. Workers will still receive a significant chunk of their wages, with the state stepping in to cover much of the shortfall.
Following the ban on hotel overnight stays for tourist purposes, only a few business travelers are rattling around in the grand hotel at the Brandenburg Gate. "It's very, very empty," Sabine Held, spokeswoman for the Adlon told DW. Only 5% of the hotel's 300 rooms and 78 suites are occupied.
Usually a popular meeting place: the Pariser Platz with Hotel Adlon (left) before the coronavirus-related restrictions
The employees reacted very calmly to the situation, she adds, and the Adlon will use the downtime for special initiatives. For instance, the reduced kitchen team will deliver a free breakfast once a week to a new shelter for homeless people in Berlin.
The trainees also want to produce 500 Easter pastries which traditionally come in lamb shape in the hotel's own bakery, for those helping in the crisis and for the homeless in need. After the crisis, when the restrictions on hotel overnight stays are relaxed again, doctors, nurses and nursing staff from Berlin will be able to spend a free night in the traditional hotel.
Opportunities and risks
For many of those who make a living out of tourism, there is no question that visitors to Berlin will return. Berlin counted almost 15 million tourists last year. Robert Rückel of the German Spy Museum in Berlin believes that there will be fewer trade fair and business trips in the future. The possibilities and advantages of virtual conferences have become obvious for companies and institutions due to the coronavirus crisis.
"But the experience on site, the encounter with a foreign culture, a foreign city, a foreign history, that can never be made into a virtual experience. This tourism will return. The only question is how many providers will then still be around," Robert Rückel told DW.
On the homepage of the Spy Museum, as is the case with many other providers and institutions, there is a notice that you can buy vouchers for when the museum reopens and thus support it during the crisis. But there is also the proviso that in case of insolvency the voucher will become worthless.
Cologne, the pilgrimage metropolis on the Rhine
Cologne also has a long tradition as a travel destination. As early as the Middle Ages, the city elders knew travelers must eat and sleep. Whereas centuries ago it was mainly the faithful who made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral, today it is around four million tourists from all countries and religions who visit the cathedral city every year and thereby stimulate the city's economy.
Georg Plesser, managing director of the Excelsior Ernst Hotel, is also experiencing how extraordinarily empty and quiet it is around the massive cathedral. The house with a long tradition located directly next to the cathedral, which like the Berlin Adlon, is ranked among the "Leading Hotels of the World" has also had to place its employees on short-time work compensation.
Like others, the luxury hotel is trying to make good use of the enforced break: "We are carrying out minor repairs and touch-ups, but also larger ones, such as the installation of a new ventilation system. We are using also this time to upgrade our hotel to make it more attractive and better meet the changing needs of our customers," Plesser told DW.
The hotel director tries to see positive aspects in the crisis: "I personally believe that this could mean a new interest in discovering one's own country, which in turn could mean an increase in city trips — which would of course be good for our business."
The regions are also suffering and planning ahead
Many popular travel regions, such as Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, are currently concerned with cutting themselves off: short trips and day trippers from the greater Munich, Berlin and Hamburg areas are no longer allowed to come in, and compliance with the ban is strictly monitored. Other smaller regions in Germany, such as Franconia, are trying to take advantage of the shutdown.
"We are using the time to carry out marketing initiatives for 2021, something that we had originally planned for the second half of the year," Jörg Hentschel from the Franconian tourist board said. In addition, they want to improve the quality of service and products in tourism businesses. They are specifically preparing the businesses to be in the best possible position after the crisis.
"There will be a time after the crisis: Travel will be happening again, in whatever shape or form. Franconia is a classic short trip destination, occasionally used for a long weekend or for a week trip. When the restrictions begin to be lifted and the situation allows it again, people will travel once more. We then hope that guests will come to Franconia again," Jörg Hentschel told DW.
Tourism as a global economic factor
Germany is not the only country where jobs depend on a return of travelers and the revival of the tourism sector. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that every 10th job worldwide depends directly or indirectly on tourism.
Therefore, the UNWTO, together with the World Health Organisation (WHO), has launched a global competition. Under the slogan "Healing Solution for Tourism Challenge," innovators and entrepreneurs are invited to develop ideas and solutions on how tourism can recover from the coronavirus crisis as quickly as possible.
Preference will be given to ideas that can be implemented immediately. Solutions for destinations, tourism companies but also in the field of public health. Applications for this initiative can be submitted until April 10, 2020.
As UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili has stated: "Tourism is the sector that has been hit the hardest by COVID-19: Our response needs to be strong and united. We also need to embrace innovation."