Felicity Long
Felicity Long

It's measure of how tricky European travel has become -- the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, uncertainty over Brexit, climate challenges, hot spots of political unrest -- that even confident destinations with strong tourism numbers are tempering their optimism for 2020 with caution.

Germany is a case in point. First the good news.

The German National Tourist Board just released its latest figures, and for the 10th year in a row, the destination is reporting record incoming tourism.

In 2019, 89.9 million international overnight stays were recorded, and 7 million of those were American visitors, a boost of 4.3 percent over 2018. In fact, the U.S. remains in the top three of incoming markets.

Less positive is the news at press time of a coronavirus quarantine near the Dutch border and the cancellation of the ITB Berlin trade show, but as this challenge is changing by the day, it's too soon to tell what toll this will take on visitor numbers -- nor how widespread the impact will be across the Continent.

Another issue is a well-publicized shooting in Hanau on Feb. 19, considered to be the work of a far-right extremist and which some are seeing as a manifestation of an increase in troubling anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.

The State Department had already issued a Level 2 travel advisory for Gremany last year, urging visitors to be aware of their surroundings -- not bad advice for any big city, including here in the U.S., in my opinion -- and to keep an eye on the Overseas Security Advisory Council's Crime and Safety Reports.

But as is often the case with terrorist incidents here and abroad, it's important to keep perspective, and this statement from the tourism board goes a long way toward addressing any anxiety would-be visitors might have when they read about these isolated incidents.

"The tourism industry, with its international orientation, is a particularly good example of international understanding and stands for tolerance, cosmopolitanism and cultural diversity," said Petra Hedorfer, the board's CEO.

"The overwhelming majority of people in Germany are open-minded, hospitable and tolerant and stand on solid democratic values," she said. "In this sense, we speak to you with one voice: Germany as a travel destination, welcomes its guests from all over the world."

One way the tourism board is getting younger visitors excited about travel to Germany is with the use of video on Facebook, including an augmented reality Castles, Parks and Gardens campaign on Facebook Spark AR. The Winter Wonderland promotion was launched in November 2019 for the run up to Christmas and focused on Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenzollern Castle and Sanssouci Palace. This was followed by a Spring Awakening promotion highlighting Augustusburg Palace, Herrenhauser Gardens and the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Worlitz and Worlitz Castle.

"By presenting obvious tourist highlights of our country with these digital tools, we inspire an above-average number of 'digital natives' to choose Germany as a travel destination," Hedorfer said.

Meanwhile, on a more local level, the State Tourist Board of Baden-Wurttemberg, in southwest Germany, has expanded its Specialist Program for travel advisors.

Highlights include new modules for the city of Stuttgart, Stuttgart Airport, the Black Forest and the Black Forest Highlands.

In addition, the program comprises three basic-knowledge courses, including where first-time visitors should go to experience famous cities and towns, how to get there by various forms of transportation and the best time of year to go.

Six special-interest courses delve into regions and cities, traditions and culture, culinary delights, active highlights, fun for the family and medical and wellness spas.

There are two additional Inside Information modules that cover off-the-beaten track places as well as routes, drives and cruises.

Finally, if that weren't enough to get clients excited about Germany, this year marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, which will be celebrated with a full calendar of concerts and events in the city of his birth, Bonn, and throughout the country. In addition, the once-in-a-decade Oberammergau Passion Play, set to take place in Bavaria from May through October, is expected to draw some half-million visitors.

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