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26 Oct, 2009

Germany Steps Up Push For Visitors From Asia

SINGAPORE:  The City of Berlin will be using next month’s 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall to launch its first TV advertising campaign in Asia, based on a powerful brand message, “City of Freedom.”

At the same time, Lufthansa German Airlines will mark the 50th anniversary of its flights to Bangkok. In November 1959, a four-engine Super Constellation aircraft took 38 hours to fly from Hamburg to Bangkok, the airline’s first city in Asia, via Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Rome, Cairo, Karachi and Calcutta (now Kolkata).

The three-week Berlin campaign to be launched on CNN Asia was announced here last week at the ITB Asia, the regional equivalent of the ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel show.

Now in its second year, ITB Asia is a partnership between the German exhibition company Messe Berlin, organiser of ITB Berlin, and the Singapore Tourism Board which provides considerable cash-and-kind assistance for the show under a five-year contract that began in 2008.

The ad campaign will underscore one of the most significant shifts taking place in the travel industry, paralleling the shift in the global political and economic order. Germany, one of the largest generators of long-staying, high-spending tourists to Asia, is now knocking on Asian doors seeking inbound visitors from emerging giants like India, China and the ASEAN countries.

Tourism authorities of the city of Berlin and the German Tourist Board, as well as Lufthansa, all used the ITB Asia to make high-profile presentations publicising their products, services and marketing strategies.

Lufthansa, which now claims to be the largest European airline group serving Asia, said one rapidly growing revenue source is Asian businessmen using its fleet of private jets for business trips across Europe from its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich.

Said Uwe Muller, the airline’s VP Asia-Pacific, “Despite the current economic turmoil, Lufthansa (along with its group-owned European airlines SWISS and Austrian Air) now operates 235 weekly flights from 23 gateways in nine countries across the Asia-Pacific. In 2009, the number of passengers flying from Asia to Europe with Lufthansa has matched the number of passengers originating in Europe – the first time Lufthansa has achieved this milestone.”

Burkhard Kieker, President & CEO of Berlin Tourismus, said the ad campaign would not be a “flash in the pan” but the start of a sustained marketing effort that has shifted increasingly to ASEAN and the BRIC countries. “We do roadshows in India and at least twice a year, we visit China. There is enormous potential.”

He said traffic from Asia to Europe would hit new heights when the Berlin Brandenburg International (BBI) airport opens in 2011. At the moment, Air Berlin is the only airline flying directly from Bangkok to Berlin’s Tegel Airport, which will be closed when BBI opens.

Mr Kieker said the new airport will go a long way towards positioning Berlin as the new heart of Central Europe and allow the German capital to become a hub of tourism and travel.

Jana Wohlert, Director Market Management of Berlin Tourismus, said Berlin was becoming an increasingly Asian-friendly city. She said today the city boasts 56 Thai restaurants along with 143 Chinese, 103 Indian, 70 Japanese and 34 Vietnamese restaurants. This in addition to several Afghan, Indonesian, Lebanese, Syrian, Korean, Pakistani and even Tibetan restaurants.

Ms Wohlert also cited figures claiming that Berlin had recorded a 5.3% increase in overnight stays in Jan-Aug 2009, as against overall declines in Germany as a whole as well as other cities like Paris, Vienna and Madrid.

Also making a presentation was Peter Blumenstengel, who once worked for Thai Airways International in Frankfurt and is now the Tokyo-based Regional Manager for the German tourist board DZT.

He said Germany’s tourism campaign was based on marketing the “Ten Reasons to Visit Germany,” one of which was the presence of thousands of kilometres of autobahns with no speed limits. “Germany is one large F1 racing track,” he said, taking a dig at cities such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur which are having to create special F1 racing tracks to attract speed-loving motorcar enthusiasts.

Although the prospects of outbound Asian travel into Germany are good, the biggest obstacle is issuance of the European Schengen visa. “This is a big challenge for us,” said Mr Kieker. “I can tell you that we as Berlin Tourismus don’t stop talking to (German immigration authorities) and telling them that this is a real hurdle.” He claimed there had been some improvement but it depended on which embassy was being applied to, and in which city.

This year’s ITB Asia was attended by a massive contingent of 55 buyers from India, the largest contingent of hosted buyers.

Just as ITB Berlin came into being in March 1966 and defied the doomsayers who said it could never succeed in the then-divided city, so too has ITB Asia now risen above the ashes of the regional financial and economic crises to establish itself as a permanent presence on the Asian trade show calendar.

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