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Can German tourism coexist with the coronavirus?

Andreas Kirchhoff
March 18, 2020

Tourists' stays in hotels are no longer allowed, entries and exits into and out of Germany are only allowed in exceptional cases. The impact of the coronavirus on the tourism industry is severe.

Closed and guarded gates of Neuschwanstein Castle
The doors remain closed until further notice at Neuschwanstein CastleImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K.-J. Hildenbrand

It all ended shortly before midnight. The last beer was drawn and, for the first time in 120 years, the Hofbräuhaus in Munich closed without knowing when it would next open its doors. Coronavirus rules put into effect on Tuesday even apply to the world-famous tavern, the destination of almost every tourist visiting Munich.

The Hofbräuhaus, which has long prided itself on being open 365 days a year, had already seen almost half of its guests disappear in recent days.

"We're shutting down the whole operation and we're using the time to fix things. Then we will open again when the risk of infection is reduced," said Managing Director Wolfgang Sperger.

The traditional inn and beer hall is only one of many institutions affected by the restrictions imposed on public life and tourism. Due to the current situation, Cologne Cathedral, which has 6 million visitors a year, is "for the time being only open to people who want to visit it to pray," the cathedral announced on its website.

The Bavarian Palace Administration also announced that all sights, such as Neuschwanstein Castle, are closed to the public until April 19. Only the parks and gardens will remain open until further notice.   

Germany - Doorman outside the closed doors of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich
Closed - for the first time in 120 years: the Hofbräuhaus in MunichImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schrader

Tourism is a risk factor

Tourists and business travelers are seen as the transmitters of this new type of coronavirus, which is the reason for its worldwide spread. Carnival events and skiing holidays in northern Italy and Tyrol are thought to have accelerated the spread of the infection throughout Europe.

While only a few tourist facilities, destinations and regions suffered from the absence of guests from Asia, tourism in Germany has now come to a complete standstill. The borders are closed. Hotels are no longer allowed to accommodate tourists. Museums are shut and restaurants have restricted opening hours.

There's a kind of end-of-the-world feeling. Before the ski resorts at the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, were closed last Sunday, thousands of skiers went there one last time. Even the ban on visiting the North Sea islands is still being ignored by some travelers.

Schleswig-Holstein slammed on the brakes

In the fight against the corona pandemic, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein is set to be a tourist-free zone. As of Wednesday, visitors will no longer be allowed to enter the state.

"Traveling into the territory of the state of Schleswig-Holstein for tourist purposes will be prohibited. This can be controlled and enforced," Tourism Minister Bernd Buchholz said.

The only way is to travel there now is for familial or professional reasons. All accommodation facilities, campsites and marinas will be closed to tourists from Wednesday. Tourists have been ordered to leave by Thursday. Day trips will also no longer be allowed to enter the state.  

Germany Tourism in times of the Coronavirus Crisis | Police on Rügen
Holiday-makers are to leave islands - Docks of the ferry that runs between Rügen and HiddenseeImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Sauer

Serious consequences for tourism, airlines

After a number of tour operators, particularly TUI — the world's largest, had already suspended their offers on Monday, DER Touristik Deutschland has now also temporarily canceled all tours. The stop will last until March 29. This is the company, which includes the tour operators Dertour, ITS, Jahn Reisen, Meiers Weltreisen, ADAC Reisen and Travelix, response to the global travel warning issued by the German Foreign Ministry.

Like other major airlines, Lufthansa has again substantially reduced its flight schedule due to the increasing number of countries introducing entry stops in response to the pandemic. Starting on Tuesday, 90% of long-haul flights and 80% of short-haul flights in Europe are to be discontinued until April 12, the German airline said.

The measures adopted so far by the German government — an extended reduced working hours compensation, liquidity assistance and tax deferrals — have initially been deemed sufficient, according to the government's aviation coordinator, Thomas Jarzombek. Later, he said, it would be decided whether further aid was necessary.

Existential fears for hotels, restaurants, tour operators

Government Commissioner for Tourism Thomas Bareiß said he considers the travel and tourism industry to be in a critical situation in light of the coronavirus crisis and has called for emergency funds to be made available.

"We must not allow the many restaurants, hotels and companies in the tourism industry with over 3 million employees to disappear," the state secretary in the Ministry of Economic Affairs said.

The DRV travel association has repeated its call for state support.

"The travel and tourism industry is being particularly hard hit. The room to maneuver is no longer a matter of weeks, but of days. We now need an emergency fund quickly to form a protective shield," said Bareiß. The current loss of income is gone forever, there is no catch-up effect in this industry. "This is an extraordinary situation that requires extraordinary resources."

Germany, Berlin - an almost deserted Brandenburg Gate
Rarely so empty — the Brandenburg Gate in BerlinImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Urgent warnings also came from the Dehoga hotel and restaurant association.

"The drop in sales is reaching an unprecedented level," Dehoga President Guido Zöllick said.

Private demand is also noticeably declining. "In the meantime, the entire industry throughout Germany is suffering — whether hotels, restaurants, caterers, pubs, bars, discotheques and clubs, and regardless of whether they are based in the city or in the country," he added.

What's left? Travel in the microcosm of your direct surroundings

In keeping with the saying "live, where others spend their vacation" many people are now able to enjoy their home as if they were on holiday. Although public buildings, such as museums, are also closed to residents, you can rarely enjoy the view of architecture and cityscapes as deserted as they are at present. 

sbc/sms (dpa, Reuters)