Reporter’s Notebook: Germany Travel Mart

leipzig shoppingMore than 300 exhibitors from across Germany welcomed 600-plus travel agents, tour operators and journalists from around the world to last month’s 38th annual Germany Travel Mart (GMT) in Leipzig. Burkhard Jung, the city’s youthful, energetic mayor, set the tone of this year’s event by describing his own discovery of Leipzig as a visitor in 1991, two years after it became part of the reunified Germany.

“I was born in West Germany…but I saw history in this city. It took the imagination of the people of Leipzig to bring it back to a European city of world renown,” he said.

The recapturing of Leipzig’s history was going on even on the day before the May 14 opening of the GTM with the inauguration of the city’s new Music Trail—a series of 150 steel ribbons inlaid in the city center pavement that directs pedestrian tourists to the major historic music sites of the city. These include memorials to composers Robert Schumann, Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg, Felix Mendelssohn and others.

A wealth of other destination news was also gleaned from the trade show floor of the Leipzig Messe Convention Center. Following are some highlights.

Baden-Wurttemberg: Martina Kohler, marketing sales manager for the Baden-Wurttemberg Tourist Board, reported that the state is marketing itself as “Southwest Germany” to inform Americans of its proximity to neighboring Bavaria. The cities of Heidelberg and Freiburg are popular destinations within Baden-Wurttemberg, as is Stuttgart, which will host next year’s GMT.

Heidelberg: In an online survey of 5,500 international visitors recently conducted by the Germany National Tourist Office, Heidelberg Castle was voted the country’s favorite attraction, just ahead of runners-up Neuschwanstein Castle and Cologne Cathedral. While proudly announcing the poll’s results, Steffen Schmid, director of tourism marketing for Heidelberg Marketing, and Sales Director Stefanie Aben added that Heidelberg is in early planning for a campaign to capture return visits from the 20,000 American military personnel who were stationed in the town during the Cold War.

Bavaria: Susan Krulic, New York-based rep for Bavaria Tourism, cited a yearlong series of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of the government edict that allowed German breweries to create beer gardens for the first time. This will be followed by bicentennial opera events from April to August 2013 honoring composer Richard Wagner in Bayreuth.

Bremerhaven: Susan Rieniftz, sales rep for the Bremerhaven Tourist Board, said the port town’s award-winning German Emigration Center has been given $5.65 million from the state of Bremen to continue growing its success. Filled with ships’ logs dated from 1830 to 1974, the geneology-oriented facility can help its 5,000 annual visitors from the U.S. trace their German ancestry.

Dresden: Mandy Dzubaniak, marketing rep for Frauenkirche, the restored church that is the symbol of Dresden, said Americans are now the largest group of international visitors, at 12 percent, to the church. A Bach Festival is scheduled there for October 2-7, 2012.

Wismar: The 800-year-old city of Wismar near Germany’s Baltic Coast is now marketing itself as the first Hanseatic City, predating its better-known neighbors Rostock and Lubeck. In making this announcement, Kai Michael Stybel, marketing manager for the Wismar Tourist Board, also noted that Wismar’s UNESCO World Heritage city center has three important cathedrals.

Brandenburg: Knut Hanschke, former director of the German National Tourist Office in New York, is now international manager for tourism marketing of the state of Brandenburg, the region “around Berlin.” In addition to the famed Sanssouci, built in 1737, and 17 other Potsdam castles that are being individually restored, Brandenburg has Eisenhuttenstadt (“Steel Plant City”) built by the East Germans in 1949 as a model Communist town.

Airport Reports

Munich Airport now has the world’s first and only “Airbrau” or airport microbrewery. Corrina Born, manager of marketing communications for the airport, made this announcement and also noted that Munich Airport had grown to be the sixth-largest in Europe and will open both a third runway and a new terminal in 2015.

Dusseldorf International Airport is growing by 1 million passengers per year and served 20 million passengers in 2011, according to Rainer Perry, the airport’s U.S. rep. He also noted that new U.S. routes launched in May include twice-weekly flights to Dusseldorf from Miami and Las Vegas.

Hotel Happenings

Stefan Bruckner, director of sales and marketing for Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Germany, talked about the new 244-room Westin Hamburg, scheduled to open in July next year adjoining the city’s New Elbe Philharmonic Hall, now under construction.

Susanne Dirnbacher, international sales manager for the 285-room Ellington Hotel in the western side of Berlin, said the hotel recently hired Chef Florian Glauert from the Palace Hotel Berlin to run the hotel’s Duke Restaurant.

U.S. Buyers’ Reactions

A group of about 30 U.S. travel agents and tour operators, invited by George Vella, the German National Tourist Office’s head of U.S. sales, formed an active presence during the two days at the Germany Travel Mart. Travel Agent caught up with some of the U.S. buyers to learn their reactions to the show.

Hilton Smith, a master travel planner selling “Platinum” luxury travel with TravelStore, Los Angeles, said this was his first GTM and he was impressed with its operation. “This is very well-organized and there is a good representation of exhibitors. I have been to Germany many times, yet I am finding so many places that I have not seen before. This is a great way to fill in my knowledge of those places.”

“I’m specialized in Germany and trying to get all the information I can for planning next year,” said Elisabeth Schmitt, president of Nonstop Travel, a Signature Travel member in Torrance, CA, who has been coming to the GTM for 20 years. “I plan to speak to the Wagner Society back home to try to organize trips to next year’s 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner’s birth.”

Joseph Green, general manager for North America at Tumlare Corp., Sudbury, MA, relies on the travel markets to “refresh contacts.” He noted that Germany now represents 20 percent of his company’s travel sales. He added that Tumlare has recently developed a music travel brand called “Maestro by Tumlare,” and the Leipzig GTM presented new products to help support that initiative. “I came to Leipzig to develop new product. This is great place,” said Green. “I’ve also just discovered [at the trade show] some great hotels in the Black Forest for music groups.” He also praised the German suppliers for their “flexibility and creativity” in helping to deal with skyrocketing airfares.

The Leipzig show was the fourth GTM for German-born Sandra Weinacht, CEO of Incantato Tours, Tega Cay, SC. “As a German, it has opened my eyes to my own country as never before,” she said. Weinacht noted that thanks to a meeting with Anje Dietrich, international marketing manager for Weimar Congress and Tourism Service, she has been able to expand her U.S. school music group tours by basing them in Weimar. “We are bringing group after group to Weimar,” said Weinacht. “The mayor welcomes our groups and puts out the American flag on the Fourth of July.”

Cindy Waggoner, now in her fourth year as Central European product manager for Avanti Destinations, Portland, OR, was especially impressed by her first visit to Leipzig, and the generosity of the host city in allowing delegates free entry throughout the city’s public transportation system. “I really love Leipzig, and using the show badges on the bus and train system has made it so easy to get around the city.” Waggoner also said she was picking up a lot of culinary information due to the popularity of food and wine tours, and had gained knowledge from a pre-tour to Wurzburg and a German winery prior to arriving in Leipzig.

An enlightening pre-Mart tour of Potsdam was a highlight for Christina Ernst, owner of  VIP Alpine Tours, Cleveland. She said the city’s impressive castles and villas built by Frederick the Great of Prussia, the history of the World War II Potsdam Conference rooms in the Cecilienhof castle, and the Potsdam border bridge, where East and West Germans exchanged hostages during the Cold War, were all exciting revelations. She plans to include the city in future itineraries for her Berlin-bound clients.