Germany deserves better from UK tourists, and recent terrorism scares aren’t helping. It’s time for some fresh marketing ideas
We Brits severely under-rate Germany as a tourism destination and this year could prove tougher than usual as terrorism fears mount.
News that one of the country’s top tourism attractions – the viewing area in the Reichstag – has now been closed due to growing fears of an attack is a major blow to the destination.
For the past week the international media have been running reports about a potential Al-Qaeda strike, and this is the first sign that tourism is already being hit.
For most destinations November would be an off-peak period, but for Germany it is a critical time because tourists begin to flock in from around the world; the main attraction being the atmospheric Christmas markets, with visitors traditionally warding off the cold with wurst, apfelstrudel and gluhwein.
I happened to be in Germany at the weekend – in Dusseldorf – and was struck again by the nation’s unique tourism appeal. Not only was the weather sunny, cold and crisp and the Christmas markets in full swing, but the clean and efficient transport and urban infrastructure was a pleasant surprise, particularly when compared with London and many other European cities.
Reading the increasingly scary media reports about an ‘imminent terrorist attack’ I expected naked fear on the streets. But apart from a small armed police presence at the airport, there was little sign of unease.
God forbid that there should be an attack, but is Germany really any less safe than any other destination? We should remember that the terrorism threat in London remains at the ‘severe’ level, it is not so long since a huge car bomb was discovered in New York City, and many parts of the middle-east and Asia remain highly vulnerable.
Terrorism aside, Germany continues to have an underlying image problem among UK tourists. Last year Britons spent 3.7m hotel nights in Germany; a 12.4% decline on the previous year.
I believe much of the problem lies in old prejudices; a view clearly shared by the BBC which this week begins an examination of German culture by comedian Al Murray (creator of the famously jingoistic ‘pub landlord’) to be screened on BBC4.
There is a misapprehension that Germany lacks the culture and ‘good life’ enjoyed by its Mediterranean neighbours. This of course ignores some of the world’s greatest art and modern architecture, the world’s best orchestra (Berlin Philharmonic) and the globe’s greatest white wines (Riesling).
So the destination’s marketers now have the uphill struggling of overturning the (sometimes Wagnerian-sized) myths.
The answer must be in better marketing communications. Here Germany some key advantages. First, it is a wealthy country, which should be well able to allocate the necessary resources to a strong global marketing campaign.
Second, it is a technically advanced society, and should therefore be able to use fully the power of modern digital communications. Mobile, increasingly the medium of choice of social media comms, is a natural strength with the German economy.
Third, and most importantly, the nation can exploit the obvious dissonance between perception and reality. In order to do so requires some truly creative marketing thinking – in terms of advertising, PR and digital media – which is a fascinating opportunity for any forward thinking Germany marketer. Indeed this third factor can make the first two advantages truly pay off.
At the moment it may appear a bleak winter for German tourism, but with some inspired communication – and a dose of good luck – it can enjoy a deservedly brighter future.