Germany reports increase in U.S. visits

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HANNOVER, Germany -- Travel from the U.S. to Germany is on a strong growth track, and some of the biggest percentage increases are to the federal states that previously constituted East Germany, according to officials of the German National Tourist Board, speaking at the annual Germany Travel Mart here.

For the future, tourism officials are planning new theme promotions that tap into the primary reasons foreign travelers visit the country, such as historical attractions, culture and cuisine.

According to GNTB chairman Ursula Schorcher, Germany hosted 4.1 million overnight stays by U.S. travelers in 1998, a gain of 11.4% compared with 1997; during the first two months of 1999, U.S. overnights posted another 10.5% gain compared with the same months a year earlier. "In 1998, the dynamic growth of the U.S. market compensated for the decrease in the number of Asian guests many times over," she said.

The U.S. is by far Germany's largest overseas visitor market and is the second-largest national market overall, after the Netherlands and ahead of the U.K. Some of the biggest percentage gains for Americans were to the states in eastern Germany.

For example, U.S. visitors' overnight stays in Saxony, home of historical cities such as Dresden and Leipzig, jumped by 25.7% last year. The comparable increases from the U.S. to other "new" states were 15.5% to Brandenburg, the area surrounding Berlin; 6.2% to Thuringia; 10.7% to Saxony-Anhalt, and 46% to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Pomerania) on the Baltic coast. "You can see from the very high growth rates that U.S. citizens are looking into the states they couldn't visit 10 years ago," Schorcher said.

Total overnights by foreigners to the eastern states were still limited in actual numbers, however.

The biggest draw, the state of Saxony, attracted 732,000 foreign overnights last year; each of the western German states attracted more than 1 million. The most popular region of Germany for foreigners is Bavaria, which drew 8.1 million overnight stays in 1998, a gain of 11.6% compared with 1997. Overall, the number of foreign overnight stays in Germany last year grew by 3.2%, to 34.5 million.

The tourist board's market research also indicates what American visitors like to do in Germany, based on in-flight surveys of U.S. airline passengers. Ninety percent said they engaged in city sightseeing, 81% mentioned visiting historical sites, 78% cited wining and dining, 77% went shopping and 61% visited museums and/or art galleries.

The tourist board this year plans to start publishing a new series of consumer brochures on the theme Culinary Germany, starting with one on the Black Forest region of Baden-Wurttemberg, in southwest Germany.

The brochures will suggest "gourmet routes" in the selected region and list restaurants plus background information on some of the characteristic local dishes. Culinary Germany brochures for other regions will follow. The Black Forest brochure includes maps with three suggested culinary routes and listings of 72 restaurants in 51 towns.

For 1999, the tourist board is promoting Goethe Year in honor of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Although he may not be at the top of many Americans' reading lists, the author of "Faust" is considered Germany's literary godfather.

The year 2000 will be a busy one for the tourist board: Germany will be hosting a world's fair, the Expo 2000 in Hannover, as well as the once-a-decade performances of the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria.

In addition, the German National Tourist Board will seek culture-minded visitors with two big anniversary promotions: Bach Year, marking the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the 600th birthday of Johannes Gutenberg, whose invention of moveable type led to the development of the printing press.

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