This year’s ITB sent all the right signals. Now Germans need to be convinced to start booking their holidays, writes Paul Needham.
Could ITB prove to be the turning-point for 2016 holiday bookings? That's the vital question for the German tourism industry at present. After a disappointing autumn, weak December and terrible January, the sales figures for February could indicate the start of a recovery. Many Germans have delayed their holiday decisions in recent months due to worries about terror attacks and security in various destinations, particularly Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia.
But last month bookings in travel agencies were “only” 2% lower than 12 months previously, according to market researchers GfK. However, the trend away from the eastern Mediterranean and towards the west continued, judging by separate figures showing another 40% drop in package bookings to Antalya but strong double-digit growth for Greece (Crete and Rhodes) and Spain (Majorca and the Canaries).
Travel industry bosses were determined at ITB last week to talk up the market and create a positive mood of confidence despite all the challenges facing the sector at present. Their key message to international partners and media was clear: Germans still want to keep travelling - they are just switching destinations. This is not just optimistic talk. The underlying factors driving German outbound travel remain positive: a steady economy, rising wages, low unemployment and a well-established desire to travel abroad.
The downturn in the market at present is clearly the result of very understandable concerns about where it is safe to travel to. Germans need to be convinced that destinations are safe to visit. And not just with words but with action. It's not enough for tourism ministers simply to declare that “my country is safe”. Destinations must show that they are taking measures to improve safety, without disclosing information that might prove counter-productive. Tunisia, for example, has been relatively open in explaining its security measures, including its cooperation with European authorities. Others need to catch up in terms of transparency.
The German travel industry, headed by the DRV and the leading tour operators, should now embark on more proactive marketing campaigns to get consumers to turn 'looking' into 'booking'. Thomas Cook's planned Turkey campaign is a step in the right direction. But a focus on cheap prices will not be enough, even though many consumers will no doubt decide to snap up bargain-priced holidays in Turkey & Co despite their doubts. A stronger and more fundamental message reinforced with solid information about safety and security issues is what is really needed.