Germans are the world’s biggest spenders on international travel (source: UNWTO, 2008). But the outbound travel market has not been showing any signs of real recovery in 2010. In the build up to ITB in Berlin this week, Roland Gassner, research manager with GfK TravelScope, which continuously tracks German travel behavior (based on the analysis of consumer attitudes in 20,000 German households) tells Kevin Rozario why conditions this year will be no better than in 2009.
From your latest survey, Germans have planned 55.4 million vacations of more than five days in 2010, which is 3.4 percvent below last year. It doesn’t look very good for global tourism, given the importance of the German market. Are Germans just being cautious as they come out of the economic downturn or has there been a fundamental change in mindset?
Gassner: It’s true, the indicators for 2010 are no better than last year. But it could be even worse, because many Germans are not sure if the situation with respect to the labor market will turn around or maybe become more difficult. There isn’t a change in mindset in the sense that Germans have lost their desire or appetite for taking holidays. It is much more the case that they are adapting to a changed set of economic circumstances.
You mention the impact of volatility of the labor market. Is there a view on how much the German economy might grow in 2010?
Gassner: The latest figures indicate growth of around 1.4 percent, but last year we had seen a decline of about 5 percent. Due to the size of that fall, many Germans are afraid the job situation this year will reflect last year’s recession in a kind of “knock-on” effect.
Your analysis shows that just one in four trips have been booked at this stage, but how does that compare to the same time last year?
Gassner: This proportion remains around the same level as 2009. But we can see that certain target groups, for example families with children who prefer security in their holiday budget calculations, are going to book earlier, while others, who are able to be more spontaneous with their travel plans, are “gambling” and waiting for a special offer or intensively comparing prices.
Does this imply that Germans will look for last-minute bargains or simply that they will travel less this year?
Gassner: We estimate that Germans are planning around 3 percent fewer holidays overall in 2010. And those who do travel will try to cut their budgets either by shortening their trips or going to destinations that are nearer.
From a tour operator, tourist board, or travel agent perspective, what positive aspects of your study could these organizations pick up and run with this year?
Gassner: Our survey shows the generic trends and average behaviors. But if we look more deeply to find specific trends in certain target groups, we can see, for example, that there is a group of consumers who have an increasing preference for so-called “wellness” retreats or holidays in places that are closer to home. The stimulation for these changes in demand are often related to shifts in ecological or social attitudes (corporate and individual social responsibility).