17-Percent Decline The Trump Slump: German tourists avoid US as travel destination

For years, the US has been the most popular destination among Germans tourists. But since Donald Trump took office, bookings have dropped sharply.
He's not rolling out the welcome wagon for everybody.

From bustling New York City to sunny Los Angeles and the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon: For years, the United States was a dream destination for Germans with wanderlust. But the tide has turned.

German tourists increasingly avoid traveling to the United States, where President Donald Trump has been making headlines with his “America first” agenda since taking office in January 2017. The effect has been dubbed the "Trump slump."

According to research firm GfK, in 2017, booking revenues dropped by 17 percent compared with the previous year. In the upcoming summer season, the revenue figure could drop a further 20 percent, it said.

This drop is happening even though the US dollar has significantly weakened, making American destinations more affordable for budget-savvy Germans. In 2016, 2.03 million Germans traveled to the US, down from a record high of 2.27 million in 2015. Back then, one of the possible reasons for the decline given by tourism experts was the strong dollar.

It is questionable how long Germans will be guided by their opinion of the US president when it comes to the dream destination USA. Norbert Fiebig, President, German Travel Association

Norbert Fiebig, the head of the German Travel Association (DRV), said he was unsure what is causing the prolonged slump. "There was initially a negative effect when Trump took office," he said. "But it is questionable how long Germans will be guided by their opinion of the US president when it comes to the dream destination USA."

Even more than the Germans, tourists from the Middle East and Latin America avoided the destination USA after Mr. Trump declared a travel ban for citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries, announced the construction of a wall on the border to Mexico and reportedly made derogatory comments about nations like Haiti, sparking fears that the US no longer welcomes foreigners.

Overall, tourism to the US has dropped 4 percent since Mr. Trump took office, according to the US Department of Commerce. This translates to $4.6 billion in lost spending. The development puts a heavy burden on the US as the tourism industry produces nearly $1.6 trillion a year of economic output for the economy.

By contrast, Germany is booming as a tourist destination. Hoteliers recorded more than 460 million overnight stays in 2017, marking the eighth consecutive year of growth. Germans spent 3 percent more time in domestic hostels than in the previous year, while foreign guests brought in an increase of 4 percent.

This year could be another record-breaking year for the tourism industry. According to DRV, revenues of German holiday providers and tour operators, which set a record with €64.7 billion in 2017, could rise "in the mid-single-digit percentage range" in 2018.

Even areas that had lost holiday guests in recent years as a result of terrorist attacks are experiencing a renaissance right now. Bookings for Turkey doubled at the beginning of the year compared to the previous year, when there was an anti-government coup. And bookings for Egypt grew by a staggering 64 percent, making the country the fourth most popular destination for German holidaymakers, after Spain, Greece, and Turkey.

Many destinations in Europe and beyond are experiencing a tourism boom, but not everybody is thrilled. So-called overtourism has been making headlines across the world, referring to the phenomenon when a flood of tourists becomes unsustainable to a destination, plaguing the local population and infrastructure. On the Spanish island Mallorca, one of the most popular destinations for Germans, thousands of people demonstrated against the flood of tourists last summer. And in the Italian city of Venice, locals complain about vacationers on massive cruise liners.

It is a hot-button issue at this year’s ITB Berlin, the largest travel trade fair in the world, which opens on Wednesday. Friedrich Joussen, the head of the travel company Tui, warned against neglecting sustainability in tourism. "Our cruise ships are therefore no longer heading for Venice," said Mr. Joussen.

Industry representatives and globetrotters convene at the ITB to discuss the latest trends. Computer automation is at the forefront of many discussions. Last year, 44.8 percent of holiday trips lasting five days or more were booked online, according to the research firm Urlaub und Reisen. Meanwhile, a whopping 76.9 percent of all short trips were booked online.

But Mr. Joussen is not worried that digital technology could eventually put travel agents out of business: "Vacation as a product is very important to customers. If you do not book early and carefully, you run the risk that your family could sit at home this summer."

Christoph Schlautmann covers transportation and tourism for Handelsblatt and Jens Koenen is bureau chief of Handelsblatt’s Frankfurt office. Stephanie Ott, an editor for Handelsblatt Global in Washington, DC, adapted this article into English. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].