Tourism in times of Trump and Erdogan | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 08.03.2017
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Tourism in times of Trump and Erdogan

The world's largest tourism fair, ITB 2017, is getting underway in Berlin. Resorts in Spain and Greece are benefiting from a fall in bookings to Turkey in the wake of political upheavals and terror attacks there.

Travel is for many the ultimate freedom. But events like "Brexit," where Britain voted to leave the EU, and the US entry ban on citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries, threaten this freedom just as much as the discussion over visa-free travel between the EU, the US and Canada.

"If we Germans again needed a visa for the US, that would be a nightmare," said Michael Frenzel, President of BTW, the German tourism industry association. "In this business, we are entirely dependent on our customers being able to travel and enter countries, without restrictions based on religion, origin or race."

Tourism is certainly a fickle industry. Our desire to spend the most wonderful weeks of the year away from the burdens of our day-to-day lives means we won't hesitate to ignore destinations that may struggle to offer safety. In recent years, due to terrorism, Egypt and Tunisia have seen a large drop in tourists, along with Turkey.

There is no greater fear for the travel industry than security and political crises.

Turkey drives tourists away

In 2015, 5.6 million Germans spent their holidays in Turkey. Apart from the climate, the country offers an attractive price-performance ratio and was especially popular among families. But Turkey's political upheaval caused booking numbers to drop by as much as 40 percent last year.

Similarly, in the first few months of this year, bookings are down again by as much as 58 percent, ITB officials told DW. It is increasingly difficult for Germans to imagine a relaxed holiday on the Turkish Riviera after several terror attacks, last year's failed military coup and the arrests of tens of thousands of people.

Politics isn't helping

The ongoing tensions between Turkey and Germany don't help either. "We witness these clearly expressed political tensions very reluctantly," said Norbert Fiebig, President of the German Travel Association. "The more these events are publicized by the media, the more strongly they are felt in the minds of the customers."

This won't help reverse the downward booking trend, Fiebig added. However, he hopes that Turkish tourism chiefs will present some attractive offers in the short term to bring tourists back in 2017.

"We are committed to seeing Turkey return to its former strength, and we have a very great interest in seeing the political situation improve rather than deteriorate," Fiebig added. Turkey's tourism minister will be happy to hear that. He is expected to appear at the ITB on Thursday.

Griechenland Tourismus Ferienhaus (Fotolia/kojin_nikon)

With many tourists staying away from Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, Spain and Greece (pictured) are seeing large increases in holiday bookings

With around 10,000 exhibitors from 184 countries - more than 80 percent from abroad - this year's trade fair is completely sold out. The first weeks and months of the year are a make-or-break time for the travel industry as this is the period when plans are forged and summer holidays booked.

"The Germans remain the world holiday champions," the German tourism chief Frenzel told DW. In total, Germans spent 60 billion euros on holidays and private travel in 2016, a rise of 2 percent on the previous year. From the youngest to the oldest, the average German spent 20 days on the road. That figure is again expected to rise this year.

Greece the new darling

While many Germans prefer to holiday at home - mainly on the coast in the mountains - Spain remains top of the bill as far as foreign destinations are concerned. Perhaps surprisingly, Greece is experiencing significant growth. Demand has increased by 70 percent compared to last year. As a result, Greece will be Germany's second strongest foreign destination this year. Booking figures for Bulgaria and Croatia have also risen by a third, while Cyprus and Morocco are also seeing strong interest.

Fiebig is more positive about Egypt's fortunes, which alongside Tunisia, has see tourists stay away in recent years after several deadly terror attacks. Bookings for Egypt are up 90 percent on last year, even if the figures are nowhere near the large numbers who visited the country before the attacks.

Deutschland Internationale Tourismus-Börse ITB in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen)

Botwana's tourism chief is in Berlin to attract more German tourists to southern Africa

Botswana partners ITB

Botswana, who is the Partner Country of the ITB this year, is also angling for a bigger piece of the holiday cake.

Around 228,000 jobs in the southern African country depend on tourism, equivalent to around 10 percent of the population. Botswana lures holidaymakers with its great nature and wild animals. A third of African elephants live in the country and are under strict protection from poachers.

"We treat armed poachers in the same way they treat the animals," Botswana tourism minister Tshekedi Khama said proudly. His country has faced criticism for its hard-line approach towards those that harm their endangered species. "But who will protect the animals if we don't?" he added.

Rhinoceroses are also protected. At present, 220 armored giants from neighboring countries have been relocated to Botswana for a better chance of survival. "We will continue to act strictly against poaching and the ivory trade," said Khama, who hopes that these efforts will have a positive impact on tourism. However, Botswana needs an extra 5 to 7 million euros every year to support its protection efforts against poachers.