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Article - Tourism Policy



Tourism is a major driver of growth and jobs all around the world. In 2016, more than 1 billion people travelled to another country as tourists. This means that the number of international tourists has increased forty-fold since 1950.

In 2017, around 671 million people – more than half of the total of 1.32 billion international tourists that year – travelled to Europe. This is an increase of 6.7% over the previous year. According to estimates by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of tourists travelling to another country is likely to increase to 1.8 billion by 2030. In line with international usage, the term ‘tourism’ denotes travel for both for leisure and for business.

Important for growth and employment in Germany

The tourism sector is an economic heavyweight and one of the largest employers in Germany. According to a study published by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in 2017, domestic and foreign tourists spent more than €287 billion on goods and services in Germany in 2015. This represents an increase of approximately 8.5% in gross value added from 2012, to more than €105 billion. And this has a positive impact on Germany’s labour market: close to 3 million people worked in the sector in 2015. The boost generated by the tourism sector can also be felt in other industries such as trade, skilled crafts, and agriculture. If one includes upstream input like services at airports, supplies by bakers to hotels and restaurants, or renovation work in hotels, the gross value added figure rises by another €76 billion, and the number of jobs by another 1.25 million, showing the indirect effects of tourism. If tourism continues to expand, the sector will need to keep pace with this and in particular to ensure that there are enough skilled people to work in the business.

Germany as a tourist destination – more popular than ever

Germany is also becoming ever more popular as a tourist destination – a trend that continued in 2017. In 2017, Germany recorded another all-time high in the number of overnight stays for the eighth time in a row. These totalled 459.4 million, up 2.7% from the previous year. The number of overnight stays by foreign visitors rose by 3.6%, reaching 83.9 million. Holidays in Germany are also very popular among German nationals. In 2017, these accounted for 375.6 million overnight stays (in hotels, holiday apartments and on camping sites). This is up 2.5% from the previous year. Surveys indicate that Germany as a travel destination has a market share of around 30%, making it the most popular destination among German nationals by a considerable margin.

Further information about the development of tourism in and to Germany and about activities and measures undertaken by the Federal Government which relate to tourism policy in the 18th legislative term can be found in the Federal Government Report on Tourism Policy, which was adopted by the Federal Cabinet on 17 May 2017.

Tourism – an industry marked by SMEs

The German tourism industry is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises. According to industry figures, more than 2,500 tour operators, around 4,000 coach companies and just under 10,000 travel agencies are operating in Germany. In addition to this, there are more than 221,000 businesses in the hotel, restaurant and catering industry, including around 44,120 providers of accommodation and 163,400 catering businesses.

Four figures on tourism

Symbolicon für Flugzeug

Number of people who travelled to Europe in 2017

Symbolicon für Menschen

Number of people employed in the tourism industry (2015)

Symbolicon für Hotel

Number of overnight stays in hotels and hostels in Germany in 2017

Symbolicon für Bett

Share of the number of overnight stays in Germany accounted for by foreign tourists – German nationals account for the rest.

Objectives and Stakeholders

Creating the right framework for the tourism industry

When it comes to Germany’s federal tourism policy, the objective is to create the right framework for the tourism industry in Germany to flourish. Within the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) is responsible for organising tourism policy.

Tourism is a major driver of economic growth in Germany, particularly when it comes to creating jobs and training opportunities, but also for raising and maintaining the attractiveness of Germany’s rural areas. Tourism can boost not just the hotel, restaurant and catering industry, but also a wide range of other economic sectors, such as the retail trade and the entire local supply chain, and it consists mostly of small and medium-sized enterprises. This is why the Federal Government is providing funding to promote Germany’s tourism industry. The development of tourism in the individual regions of Germany falls within the responsibility of the Länder.

Tourism is a cross-cutting policy field that has a bearing on many different issues. These include implementation of the EU Package Travel Directive, dealing with how trade tax is to be applied to certain travel services, and handling visa matters. Other important issues include the minimum wage, working and training conditions and digitisation, including the sharing economy. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is engaged in continuous open dialogue on these questions with the tourism associations, which represent the many different aspects of the German tourism industry.

Commissioner for Tourism

As many aspects of tourism are important for the whole of the country, the Federal Government decided in 2005 to create the office of the Federal Government Commissioner for Tourism. The current Federal Government Commissioner for Tourism, Thomas Bareiß, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, serves as intermediary between policymakers and the many stakeholders within the tourism industry. He is a contact point for the tourism industry and its associations, and represents the Federal Government on tourism-related concerns in parliament, e.g. in the Bundestag Committee on Tourism (in German).

Advisory Council on Issues of Tourism

The Advisory Council on Issues of Tourism advises the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy on issues relating to tourism. It consists of representatives from enterprises and associations of the tourism industry, transport companies, destinations and academia. Providing its broad range of expertise, it supports the Ministry’s decision-making process. The aim is to strengthen tourism in Germany and to improve the framework conditions for this purpose.

Federal Government Centre of Excellence for Tourism

In order to further strengthen government support for the tourism industry, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has established a Federal Government Centre of Excellence for Tourism. The Centre of Excellence mainly supports the operational implementation of the Federal Government’s tourism policy objectives by monitoring and analysing economic, technical and social developments in tourism and in the sector. An important part of its work is the special module entitled Tourism 2030, which is seeing the Centre join together with the various players in the industry and with academics to look at long-term scenarios and prospects for tourism in Germany. The Centre of Excellence has an advisory board as a “sparring partner” and a supervisory body whose membership includes representatives of the tourism associations of national significance.

The LIFT funding programme

In the context of the programme entitled “enhancing performance & promoting innovation in the tourism sector” (LIFT), the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is as from 2019 providing funding for innovative project ideas that serve as a model to make small and medium-sized enterprises in the tourism sector fit for the future. The funding totalling €1.5 billion serves to provide fresh impetus from within the sector, without putting a special emphasis on any specific issues or target groups. The Federal Government Centre of Excellence for Tourism selects the projects and provides advice as to the implementation. You can find further information and details of the funding terms (in German) on the website of the Centre of Excellence for Tourism at Kompetenzzentrum Tourismus and in the funding announcement at Förderbekanntmachung.

Marketing Germany as a travel destination

In order to ensure that the German tourism industry continues to thrive, it is important to market Germany as a tourist destination abroad. This task is undertaken by the German National Tourist Board (GNTB), .which is located in Frankfurt. Based on a decision by the Bundestag, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy currently provides around €30 million in annual funding to the DZT. The DZT also receives funding from its current base of 73 members and 14 sponsors, which include companies within the tourism industry, marketing organisations and important tourism associations.

The goal is to attract an even greater number of foreign visitors to Germany and ensure that tourism will make an even larger contribution to the country’s income and job market. In order to achieve this goal, the German National Tourist Board runs offices around the world, where staff work together with local tour operators and local media in order to market Germany as a tourist destination. The DZT conducts in-depth market analyses and studies which help it to anticipate new trends and adapt its marketing strategies in a targeted manner to the needs of foreign holidaymakers and business travellers. The DZT also coordinates closely with a large number of German tourism companies in order to position Germany as a top tourist destination, right around the globe.

The German National Tourist Board also showcases Germany as a travel destination among tourism industry professionals around the world, organising a wide range of different events and campaigns, and providing many different services. These include participation in international tourism trade fairs, workshops and media events, which together serve as an important platform for marketing Germany as a travel destination. Travellers and organisations interested in finding out more can go to the DZT’s website and download special apps or join social networks in order to obtain information about travel destinations, programmes and tourist events taking place in Germany. This information is available in several languages.

In 2017, in order to mark the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, the DZT focused on marketing towns and historic sights that played a central role in the Reformation and in Martin Luther’s life. Another topic was the 800th anniversary of the Dresden Kreuzchor, a renowned choir. For 2018, the DZT will concentrate on the central theme of ‘Culinary Germany’. And in 2019, tourism promotion will especially centre upon the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus design movement.


Priorities for Germany’s tourism policy

A large variety of tourist attractions combined with social responsibility

Whether it’s discovering the country’s rich cultural heritage or relaxing somewhere in the heart of nature, Germany offers something for everyone. This is what makes tourism a key sector for inclusive growth, providing employment and income for people of many different origins and skills backgrounds, in all parts of Germany.

The Federal Government pursues a policy of inclusive growth. The aim here is for everyone in the country to share in value creation and prosperity. This is why the Government also follows structural and social policy goals in tourism policy. In the 18th legislative term, a particular focus was laid on strengthening tourism in the rural regions by better linking cultural highlights with tourist services. These areas, although often structurally weak, are generally rich in culture. The Federal Government is also actively committed to promoting accessibility in tourism and is supporting work to create a unified national certification system for accessible travel.

In Germany, the number of overnight stays made by tourists in the 18th legislative term developed well. However, whilst Germany as a tourist destination is becoming ever more popular, there are still many opportunities to be grasped and challenges to be mastered. These include issues such as sustainability and social responsibility, and also how to find and retain skilled staff. These are some of the key priorities that the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is addressing in its tourism policy.

International cooperation

Cross-border dialogue

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy represents Germany on European and international tourism issues in many different arenas, including within the European Union, in the UNWTO, the OECD and in bilateral relations with other countries.

This means sharing best practice examples on tourism policy and developing measures for boosting competitiveness, sustainability and social responsibility. Indeed, international cooperation currently plays a crucial role for tourism and security.

Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 (Art. 195), the European Union (EU) has been given the power to adopt tourism policy measures that supplement the measures taken by the EU Member States. In 2017 and 2018, EU Commissioner Bieńkowska, who is responsible for this area, is focusing on the following issues in tourism policy:

  • improving the business environment (by enhancing the legal framework and reducing red tape, etc.) and providing better access to capital (by providing loans/guarantees, but also by attracting foreign investment, etc.);
  • digitising the tourism industry
  • improving skills development (initial and further training/securing skilled labour) and the mobility of employees;
  • promoting Europe as a tourist destination, in particular by marketing trans-regional products (particularly to China, with whom the EU has agreed on a Tourism Year in 2018).

OECD: International cooperation

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy represents Germany on the OECD Tourism Committee. Members of this body share information and views on current issues in tourism, and discuss best practice examples from tourism policy in the various OECD Member States. The discussion also incorporates all tourism-related issues as well as analyses conducted by the OECD in other areas to the extent that they are relevant to tourism, such as climate change, green growth, sustainability, arts and culture, deregulation, digitalisation and the sharing economy, travel safety and security, infrastructure, etc. This also benefits the tourism policy of the Federal Government.

The World Tourism Organization – UNWTO

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations, headquartered in Madrid. The task of the World Tourism Organization is to “promote and develop tourism with a view to contributing to economic development, international understanding, peace, prosperity and universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, gender, language and religion”. As it does so, the UNWTO pays particular attention to the interests of developing countries in ensuring broad-based tourism development that is also sustainable. Find out more.

T20 Tourism Ministers' Meeting

The T20 brings together the tourism ministers from the major developed countries and emerging economies (G20). This forum, which was set up at the initiative of the UNWTO, aims at highlighting the contribution tourism can make to the economic development of the G20 countries and at advocating a tourism-friendly economic policy. At the T20 meeting in Turkey in 2015, the ministers focused on the issue of ‘Tourism, SMEs and Employment’. In their Joint Declaration (PDF: 289 KB), the ministers agreed to continue their intensive cooperation. The theme for the T20 meeting in China in 2016 was ‘Sustainable Tourism – An Effective Tool for Inclusive Development’.

Chinese tourists in Germany

With a population of 1.3 billion people, a new middle class emerging, and an ongoing process of urbanisation, China is one of the world’s most promising markets for tourism. Almost one fifth of all Chinese nationals travelling abroad come to Europe. With a market share of 16%, Germany is the most popular destination, followed by France and Switzerland (with 12% each). In 2015, the number of overnight stays made by Chinese visitors rose to 2.54 million – up 24.9% from 2014. This makes China by far the most important Asian country for incoming tourism to Germany. Click here to find out more about a special feature of group tours from China to Germany.

Further information

Tourists and beach chairs symbolize Tourism; Source: mauritius images / imageBROKER / Hans Blossey