From the desk of Petra Hedorfer
CEO German National Tourist Board

Petra Hedorfer, CEO German National Tourist Board

Here you will find regular updates on the current situation from Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board.

From the desk of Petra Hedorfer

CEO of the German National Tourist Board

13 January 2021

Dear reader,

More than almost any other event of previous years, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for global social and technological macrotrends. This has particularly been the case in the tourism industry. A prime example is the accelerated digitalisation of communication and information processes. Sustainability is another major issue and one that needs to be addressed, if anything, with even greater urgency. It is about so much more than protecting the environment and combating climate change through measures such as decarbonisation of the transport sector and optimisation of recycling and waste management. Sustainability also encompasses and attaches equal importance to the socio-cultural aspects of economic prosperity, inclusion and accessibility. It is about achieving an economic, environmental and social balance and then continually making adjustments in order to maintain it.

More than ever before, travel in a post-coronavirus world will be shaped by sustainability-related developments and the pressure to innovate resulting from social and environmental responsibility. This is both a significant challenge and a great opportunity for inbound tourism.

As coronavirus vaccines gradually become available, a clear future for Destination Germany is finally starting to take shape. This gives us cause for optimism, although we will have to remain patient in the short to medium term. I would like to take this opportunity to look ahead with you in my first blog post of 2021: How is coronavirus changing tourism and what impact will it have going forward from a sustainability perspective? The conversation around sustainability in the German tourism sector is as lively as it has ever been. This is partly thanks to inspired contributions to the debate such as the Impulse4Travel manifesto, which reveals new ways in which tourism can continue to shape our world in a positive, inclusive and innovative manner after the pandemic.

My team and I began examining sustainability, with all its environmental and social facets, many years ago. At the GNTB, sustainability has been a core overarching topic for more than a decade and we engage with it as a strategic issue across all areas of the organisation. We follow a three-pillar strategy that combines the sharing of knowledge with external partners and a corresponding communications strategy with our internal sustainability initiative.

In my opinion, sustainability will be the defining element of tourism in the future. I would therefore like to set out seven propositions:

1. The sustainability global megatrend will turbocharge the tourism industry

Striking a balance between the needs of the economy, the environment and society is the social megatrend in many regions of the world. Scandinavia has led the way so far, but there is also growing awareness of sustainability in emerging markets.

Grass-roots movements such as Fridays for Future moved onto the global political stage quite some time ago. Coronavirus has strengthened rather than suppressed this trend. During a recent address on climate change at New York’s Columbia University, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced that “the state of the planet is broken” but explained that the way out of the coronavirus crisis provided an opportunity. “COVID recovery and our planet’s repair must be the two sides of the same coin.”

In the context of the coronavirus crisis, the UNWTO has also expanded its growth-oriented focus to specifically incorporate a ‘build back better’ strategy. The following quote is taken from the publication ‘One Planet Vision for a Responsible Recovery of the Tourism Sector’: “The tourism sector registered continuous growth in the past decade, creating significant benefits in terms of socio-economic development and employment, which are now at stake. At the same time, such growth represented important challenges related to the carrying capacity of destinations, consumption of natural resources and impacts on climate change. […] Addressing all these issues must be at the heart of a responsible recovery of the tourism sector, as the resilience of tourism will depend on the sector’s ability to balance the needs of people, planet and prosperity.”

You can find the publication here.

At its 2015 climate change conference in Paris, the United Nations reached agreement on a shared code for the first time. Since then, the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) with their 169 targets have offered detailed guidance on how to achieve a sustainable future with a decent standard of living.

2. Germany is highly ranked in the SDG index

We are already very well positioned when it comes to sustainability. This is evidenced by the SDG index published in the Sustainable Development Report 2020. The index documents the progress that individual countries have made on achieving the SDGs. Germany is ranked fifth out of 166 countries and thus moved up one place compared with the previous year.

More detailed analysis of the 17 SDGs and the individual results of European countries for the 169 targets, which can be found in the Europe Sustainable Development Report 2020, shows that Germany not only achieves good ratings but also performs exceptionally well with regard to the trends.

Germany not only enjoys an excellent position based on objective measurements; the perception of Germany when it comes to sustainability is also very good. According to the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index 2020, which was published at the end of October, one of the top world issues is protecting the environment and natural resources. Germany was most frequently named by the survey respondents as the country that will handle the threat of climate change most effectively over the next five years.

3. Sustainable technologies are shaping the development of tourism

Alternative energy sources are certainly no longer a niche product and transport providers – a mainstay of tourism – are opting for green innovation. A former Lufthansa executive once said: “The last drop of kerosene in this world will be burned in an aeroplane engine.” However, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury recently announced that his company will put a hydrogen-powered passenger jet with a range of 3,500 kilometres into service by 2035, the first manufacturer to do so.

Trains on Germany’s InterCityExpress and InterCity routes now run entirely on green electricity, and train company Deutsche Bahn aims to obtain 80 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Working with Siemens Mobility, Deutsche Bahn is developing hydrogen-powered fuel cell trains. Trials will start in 2024, and the aim is for them to replace the diesel locomotives still being used on routes that have not been electrified.

With greenhouse gas emissions of 31 grams per passenger-kilometre, the coach sector can already claim to be one of the lowest-emission forms of transport. The aggregate environmental costs of a coach, which includes not only carbon emissions but also construction, maintenance, disposal and the provision of fuels, are the lowest by far, not least due to continual innovation.

But transport solutions are not the only way in which innovative technologies are helping to make tourism more sustainable. For example, AI-supported applications are used to manage the flow and concentration of visitors while digital destinations are being enhanced in order to enrich the visitor experience.

4. Sustainability means better quality

The development of sustainable tourism requires careful analysis of the product. How is it produced, what impact does it have on the environment at each stage of the value chain and how will the customer experience change?

The key insight is that sustainable consumption does not mean having to go without and does not require customers to put up with poorer quality or a poorer experience. Quite the opposite: Sustainability is a hallmark of quality and a competitive advantage because it directly improves the quality of life of locals and visitors alike.

The goal of the sustainable development of tourism – encompassing the preservation of natural habitats and cultures as well as the inclusive design of the tourism value chain – is a central element of the position paper on the German government’s national tourism strategy.

Thousands of accommodation providers, restaurants, cafés, leisure attractions and tourism organisations across Germany have already recognised this fundamental idea and are translating it into action by enshrining the principle of sustainable business in their work.

Certification sends a clear signal that a company is serious about its commitment to sustainability. It also helps customers to make informed choices.

After all, visitors who are not explicitly looking for a carbon-neutral itinerary or environmentally friendly products will still enjoy the quality of regional and seasonal ingredients, will appreciate personal customer service, will be drawn in by pristine natural landscapes and will notice attentiveness and value for money.

Destination Germany offers all of this in abundance. I believe that our opportunities after coronavirus will lie in qualitative growth based on sustainable products and services.

5. Coronavirus is creating greater awareness of sustainability in tourism

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a shift in values towards more socio-environmental responsibility when it comes to travel. Potential visitors to Germany from our main source markets have confirmed this. In a recent IPK study commissioned by the GNTB, 80 per cent of all those surveyed said that they thought COVID-19 would lead to more sustainability in tourism.

Breaking this down by age group, we can see that this view is most prevalent among travellers up to the age of 54.

The picture is similar when it comes to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on climate change. People in China, Japan and the USA were most likely to think that the coronavirus pandemic can help to reduce climate change.

This confirms our strategy of continuing to put Germany’s long-standing credibility as a pioneer of the shift to green energy, eco-certification and conservation at the heart of our GNTB brand management and communications and to increasingly communicate this as a way of giving Destination Germany a competitive edge.

6. Sustainability opens up opportunities for market segments

Interest in holidays that bring tourists closer to nature has risen significantly, with 55 per cent of international customers saying that they would generally consider these types of holiday. This is particularly the case among visitors from Germany’s neighbours. A further 21 per cent – primarily tourists from the overseas markets of China and the USA – are currently interested in holidays in the heart of nature because of coronavirus.

Although cities and culture have been the main reasons for visiting Germany until now, we know that we can also offer diverse and high-quality active holidays, unique and pristine countryside and many ‘hidden destinations’. In recent years, approximately one in five overnight stays by international visitors has been in a rural region. As part of our recovery strategy, I believe there are good opportunities for combining the growing interest in sustainable travel with support for rural areas in order to maintain their topography and, at the same time, relieve the pressure on urban centres.

There is also potential for growth in city break tourism through combined offerings. For example, excursions to the surrounding countryside could be marketed to those visiting cities. Conversely, people holidaying in rural areas could be given offers for public transport so that they can go on a day trip to the city. Our ‘German Summer Cities reloaded’ campaign provides inspiration for city trips that offer something different.

In this context, accessibility is crucial because sustainable tourism needs to be inclusive. Much of Germany’s public transport, the related infrastructure and the communication and booking processes are already fully accessible. Thanks to the ‘Travel for all‘ certification system, a project of the German Seminar for Tourism (DSFT) supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, people with a disability can now obtain reliable information on destinations and service providers and experience every facet of Destination Germany.

7. Sustainability is the future

The ambitious target of taking a pioneering global role in achieving sustainability across the board requires a huge amount of effort from all of us. Let us use the pandemic as a catalyst for change and for the exploration of new fields of innovation.

The coronavirus pandemic swept away a number of behavioural norms and business models that were previously regarded as sacrosanct. The enforced slowing down has created space for innovation and a long-overdue rethink of core principles. This specifically includes tourism.

In just less than a year, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has changed our industry from the ground up, with travel restrictions, periods of total shutdown, social distancing, hygiene rules and new business models. But this gives grounds for optimism that we will bring back tourism with a whole new level of quality. Sustainability is potentially the key to achieving this.

Yet there is no inherent contradiction between sustainability and growth. At a time of fundamentally changing customer preferences, a voluntary commitment to high environmental and social standards and the acceptance of responsibility for future generations provide trade and industry with a genuine opportunity for growth. If we in the German economy can cater to this demand, we can both maintain and increase our competitiveness on the global stage.

The transition to clean energy, the national climate initiative and the decades of unparalleled conservation and environmental protection efforts, which are firmly rooted at national, state and local level, mean that Germany has already achieved a great deal in this area, even though it is an industrial nation and the fourth-largest economy in the world. We should therefore view the much greater importance of sustainability in tourism as a source of optimism rather than concern.

During 2020, a year of upheaval and change brought about by coronavirus, I was able to share my personal views and insights with you through this blog. I am truly grateful for the extensive positive feedback that I received. And I look forward to communicating with you through this medium in the new year too.

On that note, I would like to wish all of us strength and optimism as we begin 2021.

Stay safe, and stay in touch

Petra Hedorfer



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