Felicity Long
Felicity Long

European tourism offices frequently latch onto anniversaries of births and deaths of composers, artists' milestones and historical events to promote special events and activities around the anniversary that will appeal to travelers.

Some of these promotions, like the Van Gogh Year events in the Netherlands last year that marked the 125th anniversary of the painter's death, for example, are relatively easy to market. Even mainstream travelers who don’t consider themselves art experts can get excited about special exhibitions of masters whose works they recognize.

The 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517, is a little bit of a different animal. The anniversary is important, as Luther’s actions led to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. But how wide will the appeal be to international visitors?

Certainly, history buffs and religious travelers are likely to take note, and the German National Tourist Board (GNTB) is targeting those markets with inventive promotions that are already underway, despite the fact that we are barely into 2016.

For one thing, they are touting the link between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr., whose federal holiday is turning 30 this year. Apparently King’s father was inspired to change is name from Martin King to Martin Luther King during a visit to Berlin in the 1950s. King Jr. carried on the link, acknowledging Luther during his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon.

To further spur interest in Luther during the run-up to next year’s anniversary, three U.S. cities -- New York, Minneapolis and Atlanta -- will host “Here I Stand” exhibitions this year featuring paintings, sculpture and artifacts about the reformer.

The GNTB also joined forces with the Israel Ministry of Tourism to market spiritual travel to Americans to boost incoming travel to both countries: A five-day tour through Germany from Berlin to other locations significant to Luther’s legacy, including Wittenberg, Eisleben, Erfurt, Eisenach and Frankfurt; a separate five-day trip, meeanwhile, takes in the Holy Land from Nazareth to Galilee and Jerusalem. “The joint project, "In the Footsteps of Jesus and Martin Luther," offers an excellent opportunity to experience the beginnings of the Christian belief,” according to Israel’s minister of tourism, Yariv Levin, by focusing on the beginnings of Christianity and the start of the Reformation.

The project also honors the 50th anniversary of the establishment of a diplomatic relationship between Germany and Israel.

“Without a doubt, the German-Israeli relationship will always be unique due to Germany’s historic responsibility for the Holocaust,” said Iris Gleicke, federal government commissioner for tourism and parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in Germany.

The joint marketing and public relations activities will target media, travel sellers and members of religious groups.
Separately, the GNTB also has created its own campaign, called Martin Luther – 500 years of the reformation in Germany, according to Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the GNTB.

“With roughly 156 million Protestants, the U.S. is one of the core markets for our activities concerning the 2017 theme campaign,” Hedorfer said.

Travelers to Germany can get a jump on next year’s commemorative events at an exhibition about Luther and the German language at the Unesco World Heritage Wartburg Castle in Eisenach from May 4 to Oct. 31.

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