Germany: Affordability USP, barrier-free movement making tourism accessible to all

Contrary to the popular belief of Germany being an expensive destination, it is one of the more affordable one in the list of European countries on the radar of travellers, asserted Romit Theopilus. He detailed how a younger generation of Germans were more adept in using English as a mode of communication, making it convenient for the outbound to sample the European nation. Also, commendably, Germany has developed world-class infrastructure that allows people with disabilities to move about seemlessly – which has made tourism more inclusive in nature, he shared. Excerpts of a free-wheeling interview:

romit-theophilusHow did the recently held roadshow go and how was the response from the industry?

We did a four-city roadshow and we received over 800 travel agents all across India. The cities we concentrated on were Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi. We also had a small networking event in Delhi around the Christmas market; we created a Christmas market here in Delhi where we invited the travel trade to come and meet our partners. We have our eight partners from Germany – which included the cities of Cologne, Baden-Baden and Stuttgart. We had a cruise liner with us; we also had the states of Saxony and Southwest Germany. We had two airline partners with us – Air Berlin and Lufthansa. We also had a hotel chain called the Maritim Hotels, who have 34 hotels across Germany. So, these are the people who were here with us. It was a great event and we have a great turnout. We had great participation from, both, the travel trade and by the German consulates and embassies in each of the cities.

What were some of the more frequent queries from the travel trade side and which were some of the more discussed destinations and products?

We had our best turnouts in Chennai and Kolkata with over 120 and 100 people, respectively, turning up at our roadshow, which in the past we have not had. Mumbai was extra-ordinary with over 250 tour operators coming in. Delhi was also pretty good. If we take the networking event and the show, then we again had some 220 tour operators in Delhi as well. Mostly they were quite interested to learn about Saxony, because it is a new place they keep on hearing about and they are quite intrigued with the combination of Berlin-Saxony, or Berlin-Dresden and Czech Republic as well. 

Cologne does well on its own as a destination because of its proximity to the neighbouring countries as well; Cologne plays a very important part – and traditionally, the Southwest of Germany has been more popular destinations, whether it be the Black Forest, Stuttgart or Baden-Baden. 

So, these are a few places where people are coming. The Maritim hotel had Prime Minister Modi as their guest and they are using that in all their marketing outreach in India, and they are saying that PM Modi stayed there, so you should look at Maritim when you come to Germany.

What are some of the key USP of Germany as a tourism product?

There is value for money. It has traditionally been one of the most affordable place in Europe. I mean, you take a city like Berlin, an average hotel room night is between 80-95 Euros for a four-star hotel. You compare that with Zurich or Paris, you end up paying around 220-300 Euros for the same sort of hotel room. So, it works out quite well. We have also been playing up the fact that Germany is a very affordable destination. You look at our Theme Park, Europa-Park is half the price of what you pay at Euro Disney. So, these are the few things that are putting Germany in the light.

Add to that, English is widely spoken so travelling is not an issue. In smaller towns, I am sure it still is, but in the bigger cities, amongst the younger lot, English is not an issue. We have over 1600 Indian restaurants. So, Indian food is not an issue. These are a few things that are helping us as well.

It is difficult to pin-point one product or destination, because you have so much on the plate.

We have made a conscious effort to showcase Germany not as one or two destinations, or two cities, but to showcase Germany as an all-round destination. We do not concentrate on one or two cities. We, purposely, have targeted in such a manner that we concentrate on as much of Germany as possible. It is not only a question of Frankfurt, Munich or Berlin. We talk about Hamburg, Dresden, Nuremburg, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, so we try to talk about as much of Germany as possible. But traditionally, to answer your question, the Black Forest has been one of the most sold itineraries here in India.

What I really want to understand is that it so happens that when you diversify your products too much, you tend to lose the essence. So, the danger of spreading yourself too thin is also there. How are you going about your outreach in terms of products and destinations here in India?

We are looking at targeting the whole of Germany, entirely. We are not looking at promoting one or two places, but travel agents, traditionally, have been focussed more on the South and Southwest. If you talk about Southwest as a state and Bavaria as a state, these are the places that travel agents have traditionally targeted Germany, with a little bit of west with Cologne in there. Now, what  people are doing is they are coming up with unique itineraries which are packaged in such a manner that, like I have mentioned to you, Berlin-Dresden and Prague as one itinerary of central Europe and eastern Europe.

They are also doing the traditional ones which was coming into Cologne, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, then to Black Forest and going into Switzerland. So, these are the few things that are already there. What we are doing is to also showcase a little bit more of the northern side as well. More of the central part as well. If you see, our Germany Travel Mart happens in smaller places, so we have been to Thuringia as a state. We have been to many other places that are smaller in nature, where we have a Germany Travel Mart to showcase Germany as a product to Indian travel agents. Next year, we are having it in Nuremurg in May where we will be taking ten travel agents and seven journalists with us.

You have mentioned about travel agents and I believe you are talking about brick-and-mortar players. But what role does OTAs play in your outreach here in India?

Now, OTAs are playing a bigger role for us, because we are focusing a lot on social media and the online space in the way we market ourselves here in India. So, you would see us working with a lot of OTA players like TripAdvisor and Expedia.

These are the international ones. Any Indian players in the fray?

The Indian players with whom we have worked with in the past are MakeMyTrip, Yata, Cox&Kings, Ezeego1, Kuoni and SOTC. These are the main players we have worked with in the past, who have created numerous itineraries for Germany. 

What are the footfalls you have been getting off late? Any detail that you would like to divulge?

We are going to close this year at 7,00,000. That is about 3-5% growth over the last year, and we expect the same this year as well.

It is a very steady climb for you, is not it?

We have been very lucky that it has been consistent and we hope it remains consistent for the coming few years. We have a goal for the year 2030 – which is 2 million overnights from India. That is what we are planning to do. We are predicting what is 14 years away, but we are hoping that this 300% growth can be achieved in a much faster time-period. Let us see how things pan out.

Europe is in midst of a major political transition of sorts. We have recently had the Brexit and a lot of right leaning governments have come to fore in the national politics. Many of them have been talking about imposing visa restrictions which could deter unhindered movement and consequently travel and tourism. Do you think all of it  would impact the Indian outbound?

I cannot really say anything about other countries, but I can tell you this about Germany that we had a visa counsellor with us at our roadshow in Delhi, and he told the travel trade that Germany is going to do its best to ensure that everybody gets their visas in time and there are no such restrictions because of any of the current situation in the world at the moment, or Indian travellers heading to Germany. 

So, as far as we are concerned, we will not be seeing any difference in the ways visas are issued, or they are processed in the coming future. So, it is very positive for us. 

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