Norbert Fiebig is deliberately optimistic. Travel is at the top of the consumer wish list for Germans, says the President of the German Travel Association (DRV). Industry sales will reach 2019 levels this year. However, Fiebig also sees many imponderables for the travel market. In the WELT interview, he explains which trends will determine the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) in Berlin - and how the new booking season has started for the organizers.
WORLD: Mr. Fiebig, after the end of the pandemic, tour operators benefited from the catch-up effect. Many Germans wanted to leave and were happy to pay for it. But now inflation is hitting hard. Is your long-suffering industry threatened with the next booking brake?
Norbert Fiebig: The past year of travel has already shown that the Germans' desire to travel is back after the long Corona period. So far this year we have seen that inflation and the high energy costs are not doing any harm to this wish.
WORLD: So much optimism in honor. But according to an ADAC survey, every fourth person says they want to spend less on travel this year or even stay at home.
Fiebig: I'm actually optimistic. Travel is at the top of the consumer wish list for Germans. According to a current GfK study, almost 85 percent of Germans are planning a holiday trip this year. And our numbers back this up: since December, week after week, booking turnover has been higher than before Corona. January was particularly busy: Compared to January 2022, sales have doubled.
But we also see increased price sensitivity when it comes to travel. Destinations with a very good price-performance ratio are therefore in very high demand. The travel market remains challenging overall. There are many imponderables along the way – I am thinking of the energy crisis, high inflation and of course the war in Ukraine. But I remain optimistic about the 2023 travel year. Our expectation is to reach the sales level of 2019.
WORLD: How badly will energy costs and the general rate of inflation affect vacation costs on average this year?
Fiebig: There is no general answer to this question. Developments vary depending on the target area. It is clear that even package holidays cannot completely decouple themselves from inflation. With the increased energy costs, flight costs in particular have risen - this is also reflected in the prices - especially on long-haul routes.
WORLD: Doesn't long-distance travel in particular suffer from the high fuel costs of airplanes? After all, the closure of Russian and Ukrainian airspace will lead to significantly longer flight times to Asia.
Fiebig: That is absolutely correct. Nevertheless, we also see the comeback of long-distance travel. Already in the summer of 2022 – after the corona restrictions had also been lifted for most long-haul travel destinations – we saw strong demand, for example for the Maldives or the Dominican Republic. For trips in the coming summer, the long-haul destinations are again increasing significantly. The USA, the Maldives and Mauritius are showing strong increases in sales. And for Easter, Thailand is also in the running.
WORLD: How meaningful are forecasts for the upcoming summer season? After all, many people have gotten used to booking at very short notice because of the uncertainties caused by the corona. Is the industry even able to plan the necessary capacities for hotels, ships and planes in advance?
Fiebig: The good news: Since December, new bookings have exceeded the pre-Corona figures week after week. These are not forecasts, these are actual bookings - and a trend reversal. The early birds are back. Two-thirds of bookings are for travel between May and October. Of course, this makes planning easier for the company.
WORLD: During the Corona period, the package tour had won more friends again because it offered security in an insecure environment. did that stay
Fiebig: A clear yes. During Corona it became clear that aspects such as security and flexibility have become more important. Here, trips organized by tour operators score points as the safest form of travel together with the advice of professionals in travel agencies. Trends that are here to stay, I'm sure. And in the travel agency, customers not only save time, but often money as well. The travel experts know the tips and tricks.
WORLD: Because of the fear of infection and quarantine, the popularity of ship travel took a significant hit during the pandemic. Is the crusaders' business still suffering?
Fiebig: It is true that the cruise was particularly badly affected by Corona and also for a very long time - also because there were corona restrictions in many destination ports until last year. Nevertheless, the cruise has embarked on an impressive recovery course: Last year, Germans spent a total of 4.1 billion euros on ocean and river cruises. However, the record year 2019 could not yet be reached. Overall, sales were about a third below those before Corona. Also for the current year we can say: The Germans want to get back on the water. Overall, according to TDA (Travel Data Analytics), sales for the coming summer are currently almost 50 percent higher than in the previous year. So the cruise's recovery course continues.
WORLD: What new trends will we see in terms of holiday types and destinations at the ITB?
Fiebig: A new, old trend is all-inclusive. Especially for families with children, the holiday is relaxed thanks to the budget security that all-inclusive offers. In addition, we see the topic of individual premium travel very strongly. That means trips that are precisely tailored to the wishes of the traveler – i.e. tailor-made. Many tour operators and many travel agencies offer this. In addition to the general desire to travel, we see that luxury is in – for those who can afford it.
WORLD: Can travel agencies hold their own against the strong competition from digital booking platforms like in the past?
Fiebig: I'm sure of that too, especially when we're talking about the organized trip. The topics of advice and personal contacts have become much more important due to the uncertainties of the corona pandemic, and the appreciation has increased. The vast majority of travel agencies are not only stationary, but also online. Travel agencies are also at the forefront when it comes to digitization issues – all of which is valued by customers. If you then also know that identical package tours online have the same price as in the travel agency, then the question arises: Why not rely on the professionals in the travel agency?
WORLD: The tour operators have always emphasized their commitment to environmental and climate protection. But much of this was done in the form of climate certificates and CO₂ compensation, which have recently fallen into disrepute. How can the tourism industry contribute to climate protection without resorting to these often questionable instruments?
Fiebig: I'm sure the CO₂ footprint will become a decisive competitive factor when it comes to travel. And there is no way around CO₂-neutral mobility in the future. However, a lot still has to happen before then. And for that we need politics. As a travel industry, we are ready for the green transformation and we take this challenge very seriously.
We need to reduce the environmental footprint across the entire travel chain. We also have to provide our customers with information about the ecological impact of the respective travel offers. That creates transparency. On this basis, we can then give travelers better advice and make them more aware of the need for climate protection.
In addition to ecological responsibility, we also have a social responsibility. During the Corona pandemic, we saw impressively what happens in the destination areas when travel is no longer possible. The economic effects of the tourism business far exceed the development aid funds provided by all western countries. Travel is a job engine and thus makes a significant contribution to economic stability in emerging and developing countries. And – travel ensures international understanding.
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