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Berlin tourism passes its peak  Sep 11, 2008

Recent years saw Berlin emerge as the third most-visited tourist destination in the EU after London and Paris. But its new-found popularity is still far from guaranteed, with visitor numbers starting to flag.

The statistics presented in August by Berlin's Tourism Organization were disappointing. For the first time since 2003, the number of domestic visitors staying overnight in Berlin fell.

And these are the visitors that matter. 61 percent of tourists in Berlin are domestic visitors, so even an undented flow of foreign visitors fails to compensate for their shrinking presence.

In fact, even while this 40 percent share of hauptstadt tourism shows no signs of declining, profile is changing: While British, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and US tourists are still flocking to the German capital, Asian visitors are less keen they once were. Statistics show a 25 percent drop in the number of Chinese and Japanese tourists staying in Berlin.

A dull year

But Hanns Peter Nerger, manager of Berlin Tourismus Marketing, is still far from pessimistic.

He puts the 2008 slump down to the year's lack of major, crowd-pulling events on a par with the 2006 World Cup -- a highlight which triggered a tourist boom felt even in 2007 -- the Knut sensation of summer 2007, or the enormously popular Moma exhibition in 2004.

2009, he insists, will be different, what with the athletics world championships, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and the festivities surrounding the 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Economic blues

But overall, the experts agree that the new figures are not Berlin-specific. The downwards trend more likely reflects a general economic unease, while spiraling living and fuel costs have left many thinking twice about the city-breaks they took for granted a few years ago.

The German Airlines Association say that rising fuel costs are expected to lead to a 5 to 7 percent drop in demand, with average prices rising by up to 20 percent.

"Berlin airports might be growing faster than the average German airport," said CEO of Berlin Airports Rainer Schwarz, "but we still expect reduced growth for the second half of the year."

Burkhard Kieker, soon to replace Hanns Peter Nerger as manager of Berlin Tourismus Marketing, agrees that Berlin's current dry patch in terms of tourism is down to the end of the low-cost flying era.

"In Berlin, there is a close correlation between tourism and air travel," he told Berlin daily taz. "In recent years air traffic here developed twice as fast as it did in other European airports. That has to do with the hype surrounding Berlin but also vast array of low-cost airlines. But obviously no one spends a month of their summer holidays in a city, and Berlin was always people's second holiday. So when people are tightening their belts because of the rise in fuel costs, the first thing they do is cancel their trip to Berlin."

Berlin tourism passes its peak

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