East is Eden

Travel agents and MICE organisations looking to offer their clients a new experience will be pleasantly surprised by what Germany has to offer the Middle East market. ATN visited Berlin and Dresden on a fact-finding mission

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By  Gemma Hornet Published  September 1, 2006

|~|Germany---large.gif|~| The iconic Brandenburg Gate, which is a key attraction in Berlin, marks the entrance to the famous Tiergarten Park and is located opposite the famous Hotel Adlon Kempinski, a luxury hotel popular with guests from Arab states.|~|There is no time like the present to start selling Germany, which is riding the wave of success after hosting what has been hailed one of the best organised FIFA World Cup tournaments yet. The event, which saw 64 matches played over the course of one month and attracted more than three million spectators and billions of TV viewers, changed the perception of what Germany has to offer as a destination for business and pleasure. Friendly faces, warm weather and the “awesome” atmosphere that those who attended the event raved about combined to portray Germany as Europe’s holiday hotspot and, as a result, the destination has continued to witness a surge in international interest post-World Cup. “During this time we could show the world we are a very friendly nation,” says Heike Murad, GCC states manager, German National Tourist Board (GNTB). “We are very open minded and welcome international guests. We now need to build on this positive image and are currently looking for a new mascot or logo to get our message across internationally.” In the five months leading up to the World Cup (January to May), visitors to Germany notched up 17.5 million overnight stays, up 6% on the same period in 2005, and in May alone, there were 4.5 million overnight stays, a 10% year-on-year increase. Immediately following the event the GNTB predicted a 10% increase in overnight stays by international visitors for 2006, surpassing the 52 million mark for the first time and a GNTB survey of 1281 tourists who visited the FIFA host cities – Berlin, Dortmund, Hamburg, Cologne and Munich – found that 90% would recommend Germany as a travel destination to their family and friends. The numbers of Middle East travellers visiting Germany has increased steadily over the past few years, driven by carriers such as Lufthansa, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways introducing new services and upping frequencies. In 2005, Germany reported 648,997 overnight stays from the GCC States compared to 512,287 in 2004 and 445,080 in 2003 and from January to May this year, 182,237 overnight stays were recorded representing a 15.9% year-on-year hike. In May alone, the figure hit the 41,454 mark, up 27.9% on 2006 and well above the 10.4% international average. The destination was the fourth best seller for Etihad Holidays this summer (after Thailand, the UK and France respectively) and was a definite money-spinner for Emirates Holidays, which heavily promoted its World Cup packages, match tickets included. Emirates has not revealed sales figures for the period, but is confident that, as a key official sponsor, its pitch-side branding has paid financial dividends. The airline currently operates seven flights a week from Dubai to Germany and is now looking to increase capacity on its Hamburg service. From October 29 the carrier will start operating a 777 on the route instead of an A320. Lufthansa is also investing in the Middle East market and in conjunction with its partner carrier, SWISS, offers daily services from all the key cities across the region into Germany’s main hubs. The German flag carrier most recently introduced a three-times-per-week service to Bahrain, which is already achieving load factors of 60% plus, according to Uwe Wriedt, general manager and director for the Gulf and Pakistan, Lufthansa. “We will also go double daily with our Dubai-Munich flight from October 15. Ideally we would like to operate this service year-round,” he says. Committed to the Middle East market, the airline is currently replacing or refurbishing aircraft servicing routes to the region. Business Class, which is witnessing double-digit growth – 21% more passengers travelled in Business and First Class on Middle East-Germany routes in June 06 compared to June 05 – is the first to get an overhaul and economy class will follow. New Business Class features, which will be rolled out across all Middle East routes by next month, include a fully flat Private Bed with kinematics features and retractable armrests, 10.4-inch entertainment screens with digital audio/video on demand and a laptop connection offering FlyNet internet services. The carrier is also taking delivery of seven new long-haul Airbus A300 and A330 aircraft, which already feature the new Business Class concept and are serving the Abu Dhabi-Bahrain-Frankfurt, Kuwait-Frankfurt and Doha-Frankfurt routes. Going forward, one of Lufthansa’s key aims is to forge partnerships with key agents in the UAE to create holiday packages to Germany.||**||Tried and tested|~|Wall-large.gif|~|Berlin’s many historical sights include the Berlin Wall.|~|Although Gulf travellers are flocking to Germany, encouraged by an ever-increasing number of flights operated by the aforementioned carriers, the destinations they visit once they arrive are predictable and limited. “Because most of the tour operators are connected to an airline, they only offer online destinations,” says Murad. She cites Frankfurt and Munich as the most popular options, particularly the latter, which offers castles, lakes and mountains dotted around the Bavarian countryside. “It’s a pity more offline destinations aren’t on offer, because there is so much more of Germany to see,” she adds. Marco Henrich, destination development manager, Europe & North America, Emirates Holidays, explains that Emirates Holidays’ programmes focus on the airline’s German gateways “because Arab nationals in particular do not like travelling great distances”once they reach a destination. “They tend to stay in one city and do day trips within two hours’ travelling time,” he says. “It’s Munich they go for; the city accounts for 80% of our business to Germany.” It is no surprise therefore, that until recently, cities in East Germany such as Berlin, Liepzig and Dresden, have been neglected, even though they tick all the must-do boxes of the most discerning traveller. Breathtaking countryside, rich history and culture, car factories and showrooms, five-star properties, spas, shopping, vibrant and varied nightlife for adults and kids, plus good quality value-for-money cuisine are just some of the plus points these destinations have to offer. Fortunately, a major breakthrough in attracting the Middle East crowd to Germany’s capital, Berlin, a gateway to the undiscovered East, occurred on December 15 when Qatar Airways launched a four-times-a-week service from Doha to Berlin, operated by a 100-seat A319 aircraft. “Load factors have been good since day one and we will be upgrading to a wide body A300 aircraft (approximately 250 seats-per-flight) at the start of the winter schedule,” says David Whitworth, the airline’s regional manager Central & Eastern Europe. “We expect significant inbound leisure business to Berlin in the future, both from the Gulf region and the broader Qatar Airways network.” ||**||Berlin beckons|~||~||~|Whether your clients are history buffs, culture vultures, foodies or simply prefer to shop ‘til they drop, Germany’s capital, Berlin will not disappoint. The Middle East’s ex-pat community tend to head to the historical sights they have read about in text books and are wowed by iconic monuments such as the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the remnants of ‘the wall’, which once divided East and West Europe, as well as copious art and history museums and cathedrals. Must-dos include a walk through the Tiergarten located in the city centre and a boat trip on the River Spree. Evening entertainment spans cinema, opera and classical music, theatre and ballet, and kids will love the Berlin Friedrichsfelde Zoo and the LOXX miniature railway. Recommend a city tour by foot, bus or boat for clients opting for short durations, as well as a travel pass known as a Welcome Card, which entitles travellers who want to explore the city by public transport, to multi-trips on the efficient and safe U-Bahn and S-Bahn (underground rail) network. Arab nationals will be lured by Berlin’s shopping and spa facilities, its family-friendly entertainment and food outlets, as well as it close proximity to the factories and showrooms of some of Germany’s leading car brands. “All the major flagship car stores and manufacturers are close-by; Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, Volkswagen (VW), Lamborghini, etc,” explains Lothar Quarz, director of sales and marketing, The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin. “Porsche is manufactured in Liepzig, which is a maximum of two hours away and there is also a racetrack there.” Quarz has also been known to take the weekend off to personally take Arab guests on visits to car showrooms, as well as to Wolfsburg, south of Berlin and the hometown of VW. The Ritz-Carlton opened in January 2004 in the centrally located Potsdamer Platz and regularly welcomes Arab nationals – about 12% of guests are from the GCC – because they “know and trust” the brand, says Quarz. It comprises 225 Deluxe Rooms, 39 Suites, 37 Club Rooms and one 220m² Ritz-Carlton Suite. The Club Lounge located on the 10th floor offers views of the Tiergarten Park, the Sony Centre (boasting restaurants and a cinema) and Leipziger Platz, all of which are within walking distance of the hotel. Larger and adjoining rooms are the choice of Arab guests and during the summer, the hotel runs a ‘Middle East promotion’ whereby 50% is knocked off the price of a second room. To cater to this market, nuts and dates, eight Arabic TV channels and Arabic newspapers are provided in the room and Arabic and halal food can be ordered in-room 24-hours-a-day. Other Ritz-Carlton services include private check-in for guests staying in Suites or Club Rooms, a Business Centre with secretarial service, a technology butler, bath butler, shoe butler and a limousine service. “We have a Bentley, Audi A8, two VW Phaetons and seven VW Beetles from which to choose,” says Quarz. “The guests can drive the Beetles themselves. We have also just introduced an old-timer package, allowing guests to drive or be chauffeured in vintage cars.” While the men admire motorcars, the female Arab guests often prefer to head for the shops and spas, both of which are in abundance in Berlin. “One of our regular Arab guests who travels all over the world says she has her best shopping experiences in Berlin,” says Quarz. Shopping hotspots include Kurfürstendamm and Tauentzienstraße, which are lined with elegant fashion shops, boutiques and department stores. At the Wittenbergplatz, on the eastern part of this boulevard, lies the famous KaDeWe department store, the largest of its kind in Europe. Another favourite is French top-end department store, Galeries Lafayette in Friedrichstraße, and in the neighbouring Quartier 206, a plethora of international designer stores can be found. Mainstream stores are located in Potsdamer Platz Arkaden, close to The Ritz-Carlton. Spa-wise The Ritz-Carlton offers a comprehensive spa menu using La Prairie products. The Hotel Adlon Kempinski, a iconic property located opposite the Bradenburg Gate, is also home to a cosy spa and wellness centre featuring an indoor pool, saunas, steam baths, a solarium and offers treatments ranging from lymphatic drainage and Reiki healing, to a variety of massages and full-body exfoliation. The Adlon boasts 394 rooms and suites and recently converted 39 rooms into 15 exclusive suites in time for the World Cup. The highlight is the Presidential Suite in the newly created Security Wing, which is 240m² and furnished with antiques. It is connected to two additional suites, an extra social room and a dedicated drivers’ lounge to house chauffeurs and body guards. Private lifts with direct underground parking access are additional features, catering well to celebrities, royalty and members of state from across the globe. Almost 10% of guests who stayed at the hotel in 2005 were visiting from the Middle East, according to Beatrice Schwarz, the hotel’s public relations manager. “Most of the travellers are leisure guests, but we also have the health tourism guests too. They sometimes stay for a long time while they visit doctors,” she explains. Attracting more of the medical tourism market will be the property’s key focus when it participates in next year’s Arabian Travel Market, she adds. The Adlon also offers a limousine service, an exclusive shopping parade, two restaurants, six private dining rooms and extensive meetings facilities including two ballrooms catering to 400 guests.||**||MICE opportunities|~||~||~|Berlin attracts 170 million visitors daily placing it in the top three most visited European cities after London and Paris. There are 175 museums, three opera houses and 140 theatres, while 1500 events take place daily. The Berlin Convention Office claims the city boasts 268 venues, 106 of which are deemed “unusual”, 156 hotels that offer MICE facilities (58% of providers), and in 2005, around 89,200 events attracting 6.9 million participants were staged. There are also more than 84,000 hotel beds in the German capital. “Berlin lends itself to events of all sizes because the capacities are excellent here; they have trebled in the past 10 years,” explains Heike Mahmoud, convention director, Berlin Convention Office. “Competition is strong, which is good for room rates.The average [room rate] is €126 ($162), more than double that in Paris or London, so Berlin offers value for money.” Mahmoud cites the 1128-room Estrel Hotel, which adjoins the 5000 capacity convention centre and an entertainment complex, as a MICE venue of note for large-scale opportunities. “We have not seen much growth from the Middle East [for MICE business], but it’s something we will focus on by exhibiting at the right events,” she says. “However, we have had groups from Qatar since Qatar Airways started flying to Berlin.” Some of the more quirky venues the city has to offer include the 100-year-old pumping station, Wasserwerk; the Theater des Westens, where artists such as Marlene Dietrich once performed; and even the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, where the stories behind the border crossing between East and West Germany of the same name, are documented. ||**||Dresden delights |~|Dresden-large.gif|~|The Baroque city of Dresden is steeped in history and is just a 30-minute drive from the picturesque Saxony-Switzerland area.|~|A two-hour drive south east of Berlin and close to the Czech border, the city of Dresden is also ripe with MICE opportunities and is “rapidly developing into a recognised European convention centre,” according to Helga Al Obiesi, sales manager of congress marketing, Dresden Tourism. “Our key [source markets] are Germany and Europe, but we have to look around to find where we can get new clients from. The Middle East has potential,” she says. “I think we have a lot to offer here in Dresden; it’s a city with a long history, with culture and art, and several special [MICE] venues.” These include the famous Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault), the building which houses the priceless treasures that once belonged to King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (of which Dresden is the capital), August the Strong; the Hygeine Museum, which allows organisers to incorporate its nationally-acclaimed exhibitions into their event concepts, Dresden Zoo; The Fairground, where UK pop star Robbie Williams recently played; and Die Gläserne Manufaktur (The Transparent Factory), where VW’s premium class car, the Phaeton is produced. The latter is a huge draw card for Middle East’s outbound leisure and MICE market. Not only does the completely transparent factory provide a truly unique meetings and conference venue, catering to 250 people if necessary, it is also a tourist attraction in its own right, allowing visitors to observe the craftsmanship involved in creating the Phaeton. Services provided to Phaeton customers include use of the client lounge, a factory tour, and even excursion packages comprising luxury hotel stays, sports activities, city tours and visits to key attractions in Dresden and the surrounding countryside. Most of Dresden’s hotels, including the Hilton Dresden, Kempinski Hotel Taschenbergpalais and The Westin Bellevue Dresden, cater well to meetings, events and conventions. The Hilton offers no less than 14 F&B outlets, which is even impressive by Middle East standards, in addition to 333 rooms and suites, a spa and fitness centre, 12 meetings and conference halls that can cater from 40 to 300 people, and an Arabic-speaking GM. Groups of up to 100 people can be catered to at The Westin Bellevue Dresden, which has 16 fully equipped meeting rooms, 323 guestrooms, and 16 recently renovated and highly contemporary Baroque Suites. Both the Hilton and Westin Bellevue house spas and offer 24-hour room service and limousine services. However, giving both a run for their money is newcomer, Maritim Hotel Dresden, located on the banks of the River Elbe, adjoining the 6000-capacity International Congress Centre, Dresden. The 328-room four-star hotel, a former urban warehouse, opened its doors in May, and comprises a restaurant seating 425 inside, and 340 extra on the adjacent terrace, a Piano bar seating 100, 118 underground parking spaces and a small wellness centre. The property’s impressive Presidential Suite is 250m² and includes a sauna and kitchen, but can be extended to include additional rooms – ideal for the Arab market – as is the state-of-the-art security system that has been built around the suite and its adjoining rooms, effectively creating an ultra-secure hotel-within-a-hotel. “If we have large delegations of more than 12 or 14 people, we have the ability to give them their own floor,” explains Gerhard Riegger, the hotel’s general manager. Having previously worked at the InterContinental Hotel in Berlin, Riegger claims he is knowledgeable about “the Arabian way of life” and is geared up to welcome Arab nationals at the Maritim. “Whatever they want, they can get here; food in their rooms, private organised tours, chauffeur-driven cars, etc,” he says. “We believe in the Arab market and we want to attract its top-end travellers. We just need one important guest to visit here and the good word will spread.” Although more than 70% of the Maritim’s guests are MICE market related, mainly hailing from Germany, Europe and the US, the hotel is also well suited to leisure guests due to its close proximity to Dresden town centre and its key attractions. These include the Green Vault, which on September 15 will be expanded to include the New Green Vault – a walk-in safe/royal treasure chamber in the Dresden Royal Palace, containing nearly 3000 works of art; the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), which was bombed at the end of WWII and only recently reconstructed; the Semper Opera House; the baroque Catholic Cathedral; the architecturally-rich town square known as Theatreplatz; and the numerous galleries, including the aforementioned Volkswagen Transparent Factory and Hygeine Museum. Dresden is also renowned for its music events and festivals and paddle steamboat trips on the River Elbe are also popular. They stop off at key sightseeing points such as Pillnitz Palace and Park, the former summer residence of Wettin rulers and an ideal MICE venue, and Bastei in the picturesque region of East Germany known as Saxony-Switzerland, which is also 30-minutes by car from Dresden and only 100km from the Czech border. Here, in the breathtaking Elbe Valley, lay majestic sandstone rock formations, rolling green hills and avenues of trees. Dresden is also 45-minutes by car to Meissen where Europe’s first porcelain collection of the same name was made. “One Arab family visited Meissen and bought porcelain worth €80,000 ($102,556),” reveals Riegger. Day trips to Prague, a city that has proved popular with Arab nationals in recent years due to its close proximity to medical spas, are also possible from Dresden.||**||Off-peak packages|~||~||~|None of the Middle East’s largest tour operators currently offer Dresden, nevertheless, they have set the wheels in motion to encourage travel to lesser-known German cities. Emirates Holidays, for example, is pushing holidays to Düsseldorf and Hamburg, as well as day trips to places within two hours by road of these and its other two German gateways, Frankfurt and Munich. Fly-drive holidays are therefore increasingly popular. Day trips and overnight stays at Europa Park, south of Frankfurt and in the scenic Black Forest region are proving popular with Arab families says Heinrich, as well as theme parks in North Germany close to Hamburg. “What we have to do with our brochures is set the trends a little bit by following up on our gateways with new destinations,” he says. “Düsseldorf is an attractive gateway, with Cologne next door. It’s cosy, cosmopolitan and upmarket.” Emirates is also keen to promote travel to Germany just before Christmas when the cities and towns set up large markets selling arts and crafts and traditional German gifts. “We are working with the GNTO to create Christmas packages and promotions,” Heinrich reveals. ||**||THE SALES PITCH|~||~||~|Getting there: Emirates Airlines: from Dubai: Munich, twice daily; Düsseldorf, twice daily; Frankfurt, twice daily; Hamburg, daily. Etihad Airways: from Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt, daily; to Munich, daily. Gulf Air: from Muscat to Frankfurt, daily, via Bahrain. Lufthansa: Dubai-Frankfurt, daily; Abu Dhabi-Bahrain-Frankfurt, three times weekly; Doha-Frankfurt, three times weekly; Muscat-Frankfurt, four times weekly; Beirut-Frankfurt (suspended); Kuwait-Frankfurt, daily; Dammam-Frankfurt, Jeddah-Frankfurt and Riyadh-Frankfurt, three times weekly; Jordan-Frankfurt, daily; Dubai-Munich, daily (double-daily from October 15). Lufthansa private jets: offered from Frankfurt and Munich to more than 1000 destinations Europe-wide. To book call +1 888 261 0814, 24-hours-a-day or the UAE’s Private Jet number: +971 50 226 2928, Saturday to Thursday, 9am-7pm. Visit www.lufthansa-private-jet.com. MEA: from Damascus to Frankfurt, daily (until further notice). Qatar Airways: from Doha to Berlin, four times weekly; to Frankfurt, 9 flights weekly (10 from winter); Munich, seven flights weekly (nine from winter). SWISS: flies to Zurich from Dubai and Muscat daily, and from Jeddah and Riyadh, three-times-per-week. Visa requirements: Visa applications to Schengen States, which include Germany, can be time-consuming. They take between two and three working days to process for UAE and GCC nationals (except for Saudi Arabia) and cost 35 ($45). Other nationals must provide more detailed information and visas take up to two weeks to process. Visit http://www.dubai.diplo.de/Vertretung/dubai/en/Startseite.html. EU citizens do not require a visa and US citizens are granted a visa on arrival. Currency: 1 = US $1.28 at time of press. Getting around: Alamo: portable GPS navigation systems available from 6.72 ($8.63) per day. E-mail reservations@alamo-me.com. Hertz: prices start from 29 ($37) daily and 191 ($245) weekly for a manual economy. A premium automatic car will cost 96 ($123) per day. Call toll-free on 800 43789. Commission is 10% if agents call Hertz and book a pre-paid voucher for their clients. Holiday Autos: rates start at $257 per week for a Ford KA or similar. Luxury car rates start at $718 per week for a BMW 5 series. GPS available at all German locations. Prices start at 7 ($9) per day. Visit www.holidayautos.ae. Commission: 15%. Packages: Emirates Holidays: five nights at the three-star Düsseldorf, NH Hotel, including breakfast and return economy flights start at AED 3570 ($972) per person/night in a double room, valid until December. Five nights at the four-star Düsseldorf Holiday Inn City Centre start at AED 4250 ($1157) per person and at the five-star Düsseldorf Hilton Hotel, AED 4945 ($1347) per person. Prices for five nights at the three-star Holiday Inn City Centre, Munich, including breakfast and return economy flights start at AED 3815 ($1039) per person in a double room, valid until September 31. Etihad Holidays: three nights at the four-star Le Meridien Parkhotel, Frankfurt, start at AED 2020 including breakfast and return Coral Zone flights. Clients can save AED 40 ($11) if staying Friday, Saturday or Sunday between September 4 and October 31. Three nights at the five-star InterContinental Frankfurt start at AED 2235 ($608). Kanoo Travel: prices start at AED 3160 (US $860) plus taxes (approx AED 700 or $191 each) for three nights in a three-star Frankfurt property. Includes economy flights from Dubai via Zurich to Frankfurt with Swiss Air and a standard double room. Qatar Airways: five nights at the four-star Crowne Plaza, Berlin, including return flights from Doha, breakfast, taxes and service charges, and one week’s free travel insurance, start at QAR 3775 ($1045) per adult on a twin-share basis. Five nights in the five-star Westin Grand start at QAR 4135 ($1144) per adult. Volkswagen: for guests of ‘Die Gläserne Manufaktur’ (the Transparent Factory) only. Five-star Kempinski Hotel Taschenbergpalais, Dresden: from 195 ($250) per night in a superior double room; Dresden city tour by car with Green Vault visit, 161 ($206) per couple; yacht trip on the River Elbe plus cathedral tour, 520 ($666) per couple; flight over Dresden by plane or light plane, 365 ($468) per couple.||**||

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