Europe's recovery could start with Bavaria

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NEW YORK -- As transatlantic traffic regained ground despite ongoing geopolitical and economic uncertainty, top travel players from the German state of Bavaria and the U.S. gathered here to discuss the state of the trade and hash out ways the alpine region -- long a favorite with Americans -- can capitalize on current trends to speed recovery.

The first Bavaria Travel Summit -- held recently at the Westin New York hotel and organized by Travel Weekly and the Peek Marketing Alliance -- attracted more than two dozen of travel's best and brightest, including 21 official roundtable panel participants and five observers from leading airlines, hotels, tour operators, trade associations and tourism boards.

The three-day event also included a V.I.P. dinner and a media luncheon; the seminar itself was broken into three sessions -- focusing on the current state of travel, the profile of today's typical traveler and the future of tourism -- that were mediated by Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, Travel Weekly publisher Robert Sullivan, and Peek Marketing Alliance President Woody Peek.

The consensus of both Europeans and Americans in attendance was that transatlantic travel, if not yet "back," is certainly on its way back up: Reservations are on the rise, booking windows are snapping shut earlier, and flights are full, even to Germany and France, despite U.S. anger over their opposition to the Iraq war. But there's still more to do.

For its part, Bavaria -- to the collective American mind, the quintessential Germany -- is de facto among the European regions most likely to benefit soonest.

The Bavarian region can lead the way, stressed some participants, due not only to traditional strengths such as scenery, cuisine and history but also to a strategic location near the center of an expanded European Union, which has grown to 25 members with the addition of 10 nations to Germany's east.

In fact, seminar co-sponsor Munich Airport -- which last year unveiled a state-of-the-art second terminal that more than doubled passenger capacity -- already is the third-leading transfer hub for intercontinental air traffic to central and eastern Europe, after Frankfurt and Vienna, said Thomas Kube, head of travel industry relations at the facility.

Co-panelist Nico Zenner, executive vice president of rail marketing at Rail Europe Group, noted marked U.S. interest in neighboring destinations to the east of Bavaria -- such as Hungary and the Czech Republic -- which could make for multiple-country tours that use Germany as a base.

According to panel member Phil Otterson, executive vice president for global alliances at Tauck World Discovery, bookings thus far this year to Germany are up 100% over 2003.

"Germany, and in particular Bavaria are bouncing back from a down trend last year," he said. "That's because there is a large amount of pent-up demand, which hasn't been waylaid by poor exchange rates."

Bob Whitley, president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA), agreed, noting, "Americans may cut back or downgrade, but release of pent-up demand will continue."

That was music to the ears of Richard Adam, managing director of event co-sponsor Bavaria Tourism Marketing. He said tourism to the region, although strong, "doesn't live up to its even greater potential," with Americans still following well-worn paths between U.S. military bases, "even though there's so much more to see.'

So, how can Bavaria further encourage potential visitors to act on suppressed travel urges, and in new ways?

Suggestions from largely optimistic attendees included:

• Grow local inventory of proven product winners, such as river cruises.

• Partner with newly popular neighboring destinations.

• Focus on niches, such as the mature or independent traveler.

• Offer experiential tours that explore Bavaria in more depth.

• Develop more stopover product for air passengers transferring at Munich.

• Ensure supplier and tourist board Web sites are up to technological snuff.

Other U.S.-based seminar participants included Michaela Klare, director of the German National Tourist Office in New York; Jane McCroary, general manager of leisure sales at Lufthansa; Christopher Greco, a regional business development manager at Globus and Cosmos; Robert McDowell, director of leisure and specialty sales at United Airlines; Patricia Larocca, regional director, east partner marketing at Travelocity; Chris Dane, CEO, Unlimited Travel Solutions; and Kevin Weisner, internal services, senior director, Carlson Wagonlit.

German attendees included Gerd Lauterback, sales manager, Nuremberg Tourist Office; Alfred Beer, president, Eastern Bavaria and Beer Travel and Tours; Michael Dyckerhoff, managing director, Oberammergau Tourist Office; and Jochem Eylardi, Hotel Eisenhut and Rothenburg Tourist Office.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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