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Germany’s tourism industry enters the digital age | DW | 10.10.2022

These days, planning and booking vacations on the Internet has become the norm. The same goes for social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube for finding holiday inspiration.

Therefore, to stay competitive, travel agencies and hotel chains need to keep up with the digital age and ensure that potential holidaymakers can find and book their deals online. The German tourism industry, however, has been slow to embrace digital solutions. When the COVID pandemic hit, however, many had no choice but to go digital.

Pandemic kicks off digitization

When pandemic-related travel restrictions made it difficult to travel abroad in 2020 and 2021, many Germans chose to vacation in Germany. During the warmer months, German beaches were packed with holidaymakers and many campsites and hotels were fully booked for weeks. In addition to this, many companies working in the tourism industry have started advertising their services online. “The coronavirus pandemic has forced and convinced small businesses in particular to embrace digitalization,” a spokesperson for the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry (BTW) told DW.

Pandemic restrictions have forced many hotels to adopt contactless and contactless technologies

Hotels and restaurants have introduced a range of innovations, such as virtual menus, online booking and reservation systems, and contactless check-in options. A 2021 survey by the German Tourism Association (DTV) found that 84% of companies said the pandemic had boosted digital transformation in the industry.

Tourists visiting the East Frisian Islands in Germany can now, for example, use a special app to check in and out of hotels, or reserve restaurant tables. Customers wishing to reserve and pay for a beach chair along Germany’s famous North Sea or Baltic Sea coast can do so online. And vacationers heading to spa towns can now purchase virtual business cards, entitling them to various discounts and free beach access.

While progress has been made in some areas, Germany lags behind in others. Take cashless payments, for example. While card payments are widely accepted in Denmark, Poland and Lithuania, many German businesses still operate in cash.

When wandering around rural Germany, you’re also likely to encounter poor phone reception, slow internet, and a shortage of public wifi.

Time travel

Overall, however, the German tourism sector seems to have woken up from its analog slumber and embraced the digital age. Almost overnight, many businesses started advertising their services online, investing in mobile and social media platforms, and using Instagram as a marketing tool. Some even develop new gadgets and technologies to attract new customers.

City marketing agencies in Munich, Bamberg and Wolfenbuttel, for example, are now offering virtual tours to attract potential tourists. The city of Essen in Germany’s far west began running hybrid tours that combine virtual and analog elements in 2021. Visitors wear virtual reality glasses, which track their GPS location, showing them what city life in Essen was like at the end of the 19th century.

The city tour “Essen 1887” deploys virtual reality to take you back in time

Other companies offer similar historical tours of Cologne. Sign up with TimeRide Go!, and you can experience parts of Cologne as they were decades ago through special virtual reality glasses.

Airbnb, the popular accommodation platform, also offers virtual cooking classes and online-only tours of famous sites, such as India’s iconic Taj Mahal palace. Travel agencies are also allowing customers to explore potential vacation destinations with virtual reality glasses. All this helps to attract and retain customers.

Visitor flow management

Traveling in Germany has become much easier in recent years thanks to new digital technologies. Some are applied to better manage visitor flows and avoid overcrowding of roads, tourist attractions, beaches, etc.

Mobile apps can make it easier to plan, organize and book vacations and day trips

When masses of German holidaymakers flocked to the North Sea coast in the summer of 2020 and 2021, overcrowding the beaches, authorities worried about how to ensure social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 .

They then commissioned a marketing agency to develop a virtual traffic light system that shows how many people are frequenting local beaches at any given time. Laser sensors record the number of bathers and vehicles in an area, then translate that information into a simple color-coded traffic light heuristic that can be accessed online and displayed on local monitors. This way, people at home and nearby can choose less crowded beaches to avoid overcrowding.

Challenges remain

The German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA), however, says some companies are still struggling to integrate digital technologies into their existing infrastructure. Two reasons explain this slow adoption, according to the industry association DTV: a lack of funds and a pronounced shortage of personnel. The latter causes companies to lack employees with the expertise to oversee such changes.

That said, not all services could or should go live. After all, the tourist trade relies on people-to-people encounters, hospitality, traditional hotels and restaurants, great food and friendly smiles. After all, that’s really what vacations are for.

This article has been translated from German.


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