GCC numbers to Germany up 22pc

Germany’s tourism themes this year, shopping and football, will bring in more GCC travellers than ever, reports KEITH J FERNANDEZ from the Germany Travel Mart
The Frank O.Gehry building in Düsseldorf is probably the cities mosts photographed

ALTHOUGH the GCC only accounted for something like 649,000 overnight stays in 2005, it was an increase of 27 per cent, a trend that continued into 2006.

The first two months of this year saw a 22.5 per cent increase in growth rate as compared to a five per cent increase on total overnight stays in the same period, according to the German National Tourist Office.
“That’s a trend that is likely to continue, not only due to the FIFA World Cup – and Saudi Arabia’s participation – but also because more and more Arabs are discovering that Germany is a very attractive travel destination with great variety, good service, friendly people and an amazing mixture of fascinating landscapes,” said Heike Murad, manager GCC states, at the German National Tourist Office in Dubai.
Corroborating that are numbers from Emirates Holidays: the company saw bookings to Germany increase 159 per cent in the year 2005-06 over the previous year. “Germany is the fourth most popular destination for us in Europe after Turkey, the UK and France,” according to a company official. Prime tourist areas for Middle Eastern travellers are the states of Berlin, Bavaria, North-Rhine-Westphalia (Cologne, Bonn and Düsseldorf), Hessen (Frankfurt) and Baden-Württemberg.
There is also a very strong interest in the region from distributors of travel products in Germany. On a visit to the Germany Travel Mart in Düsseldorf last month, officials from across the country had one of two reactions: markets like Munich are far enough ahead of the rest of the pack to be actively servicing the unique needs to Arab clients, while others, like Bremen and Bremerhaven in the north want to reach out to the market here. That travellers originating from the GCC spend three times as much as Europeans was a sentiment echoed time and again.
“There are already many hotels all over the country well prepared for the special demands of Arab guests but of course, but there is also enough space to improve,” said Murad. “And this is also a role of the GNTB to give those partners the right information on what they need to do to get business from the different source markets, which we are in the process of doing.”
Hotels that are well-versed with the demands of Arab and Middle Eastern guests, said Murad, offer rooms and suites that are suitably equipped with kitchenettes and religious items, and which connect across lodging units for large families. “They provide special food, Arab TV channels, newspapers, private spa facilities for women, Shisha services and many more. Many of these offer any kind of special service on request,” said Murad. 
In Munich these are the Kempinski Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, the Arabella Sheraton Grand Hotel, the Bayerischer Hof Munich; in Düsseldorf, the Hotel Nikko and the Hilton Duesseldorf; in Frankfurt, the Arabella Sheraton Grand Hotel, the Intercontinental Frankfurt, the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof; in Hamburg the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten and in Berlin, the Kempinski Hotel Adlon, and the Ritz-Carlton.
Germany seems to have woken up to the other Middle Eastern passion, shopping: alongside the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Shopping: made in Germany is the other major tourism theme this year. Appropriately then, during the World Cup, from June 9 to July 9, the opening hours of most shops in major cities will be extended. Shops in Berlin, for instance, are allowed to open from Monday till Saturday from 6am to midnight and on Sundays from 2pm to 8pm.
The country estimates a sharp rise in shopping tourism to the end of the decade, with revenues from shopping tourists set to rise by 40 per cent to 3.5 billion euros per annum.
To attract the healthcare sector, the GNTB is to use a wellness marketing offensive to step up its promotion of the Health & Fitness Holidays product line. The country has a wide range of well-differentiated products and the appeal of health-oriented travel is clearly illustrated by the growing number of overnight stays by international visitors in Germany’s health resorts and hydrotherapy health resorts experienced above-average growth of 7.7 per cent in 2005.
As travellers from the region become more comfortable with the country, then, we might well hear more statements like this one by Jatin Gondolia of Orient Travels, “In the summer, Munich is like a mini Dubai.” Which is no bad thing at all.