Nowadays, planning and booking a holiday online has become the norm. As is scouring social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube for holiday inspiration. Therefore, to stay competitive, travel companies and hotel chains must keep up with the digital age and ensure that potential holidaymakers can find and book their offers online. However, the German tourism industry has been slow to adopt the digital solutions. However, when the COVID pandemic hit, many were left with no choice but to go digital.
Pandemic boosts digitization
When pandemic-related travel restrictions made traveling abroad more difficult in 2020 and 2021, many Germans chose to spend their holidays within Germany. In the warmer months, German beaches were packed with holidaymakers, and many campsites and hotels were fully booked for weeks. In addition, many companies operating in the tourism sector started to advertise their services online. “The corona pandemic has mainly forced and convinced small companies to face digitization,” says a spokesman for the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry (BTW) in an interview with DW.
(Also read: Tourist travel in China falls 18% during week-long National Day holiday)
Hotels and restaurants introduced a range of innovations such as virtual menus, online reservation and booking systems, and contactless check-in options. A 2021 survey by the German Tourism Association (DTV) found that 84% of companies said the pandemic had driven 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. Guests who want to book and pay for a beach chair on Germany’s popular North Sea or Baltic Sea coast can do so online. And vacationers going to the resorts can now buy virtual guest cards that give them various discounts and free access to the beach.
While progress has been made in some areas, Germany is still lagging behind in others. Take cashless payments for example. While card payments are widely used in Denmark, Poland and Lithuania, many German businesses still run on cash.
If you’re traveling in rural Germany, you’re also likely to face poor phone reception, slow internet, and a lack of public WiFi.
time travel back
Overall, however, Germany’s tourism industry seems to have woken up from its analogue slumber and is facing up to the digital age. Almost overnight, many companies have started promoting their services online, investing in mobile-first 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 Wolfenbüttel now offer virtual tours to attract potential tourists. The city of Essen in the far west of Germany started 2021 with hybrid tours that combine virtual and analogue elements. Visitors wear virtual reality glasses that track their GPS location and show them what city life in Essen was like in the late 19th century.
Other companies offer similar history tours of Cologne. Sign up for TimeRide Go! and experience Cologne the way it was decades ago thanks to special virtual reality glasses.
Airbnb, the popular accommodation platform, also offers virtual cooking classes and online-only tours of iconic sites like India’s iconic Taj Mahal palace. Travel agencies also let customers explore potential vacation destinations with virtual reality glasses. All of this helps to attract and retain customers.
Manage visitor flows
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 on streets, tourist spots, beaches, etc.
In the summer of 2020 and 2021, when German holidaymakers flocked to the North Sea coast and crowded the beaches, authorities worried about how to ensure social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
They then hired a marketing agency to develop a virtual traffic light system that shows how many people are visiting local beaches at any given time. Laser sensors register the number of beachgoers and vehicles in an area, and then translate that information into a simple, color-coded traffic light heuristic that is accessible online and displayed on local monitors. This allows people at home and nearby to choose less frequented beaches to avoid overcrowding.
However, the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA) says some companies are still struggling to integrate digital technologies into their existing infrastructure. According to the DTV industry association, there are two reasons for this sluggish uptake: lack of money and severe staff shortages. The latter has meant that companies lack employees with the necessary know-how to accompany such changes.
However, not all services could or should be moved online. After all, tourism is based on human encounters, hospitality, traditional hotels and restaurants, great food and friendly smiles. Because that’s what vacation is all about.