There are no licensing restrictions for the travel industry in Germany. Tour operators do not need a licence nor do they need to register with the authorities before or after starting their businesses. Exceptions apply for the sale of railway tickets (DB license) and aeroplane tickets (IATA licence). The general commercial requirements, e. g. the obligation to register a business, remain unaffected.

The sale of railway tickets requires a licence from Deutsche Bahn AG. For more information, please contact the DB Vertriebs GmbH (in German).

Issuing and selling aeroplane tickets for scheduled flights requires a licence from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). For further information, please contact IATA.

The term “package tour” is defined in Section 651a subsection 2 of the German Civil Code. In principle, a package tour must consist of least two travel services. It does not have to entail a complete tour package, e.g. where a tourist books a package advertised in a tour operator’s catalogue. A package tour also exists if the package has been individually put together and booked together for the tourist (Section 651a subsection 2 sentence 2 number 1 German Civil Code) or the individual travel services are selected by the tourist following the conclusion of the contract (Section 651a subsection 2 sentence 2 number 2 German Civil Code). What a travel service is within the meaning of the law is described in more detail in Section 651a subsection 3 sentence 1 German Civil Code.

The package tour must be distinguished from the new category of “linked travel arrangements” introduced by the revised Package Travel Directive and new travel legislation (see the following question).

A linked travel arrangement exists if, within a short space of time, the traveller is sold at least two different types of travel services for the purpose of the same trip, not constituting a package because no contract is concluded for the overall package.

According to the law, a linked travel arrangement exists firstly when the contracts for the individual travel services are concluded during a single visit or contact with the trader (e.g. a travel agent or an online travel service) (Section 651w subsection 1 number 1 German Civil Code). It is important that separate controls are concluded for the individual travel services, i.e. the traveller commits to paying separately for each service. (It doesn’t matter if he ultimately makes a single payment for the booked travel services for reasons of simplicity.) In contrast, if there was one booking procedure, the service booked would be a package tour. A linked travel arrangement can also exist if the traveller has initially concluded a contract for just one travel service and he is then sold another travel service by his contracting partner within a 24-hour period (Section 651w subsection 1 number 2 German Civil Code). This variation is typically, but not necessarily exclusively, feasible in the case of online bookings.

A shared feature of both variations is that the company is a trader, not a tour operator. The selling of linked travel arrangements means that the trader has fewer obligations compared with the level of protection afforded to the package tour (certain obligations to provide information, in certain circumstances the requirement for insolvency protection, see below).

Whilst the tour operator is the traveller’s contracting party, the trader concludes contracts on behalf of a third party. It merely facilitates a contract between the traveller and the tour operator, but is not itself a party to the package tour contract.

The traditional travel agent generally tends to act as a trader. This means that in most cases, e.g. in the case of the booking of a trip offered by a tour operator in the travel agency, it is clear who is the operator and who is the trader. There are, however, also borderline cases, particularly in the case of customised travel packages. After all, in principle a travel agent can also act as a tour operator. Under the old legal situation (before 1 July 2018), the factor that distinguished whether the party was an operator or a trader was the way the company appeared to the traveller. The tour operator and thus the contracting party was the party who, in the eyes of the traveller, promised to provide travel services on its own responsibility.

The new law provides not subjective, but objective criteria for the distinction. A company cannot assert that it is only facilitating travel services if (at least) one of the circumstances described in Section 651b subsection 1 sentence 2 number 1-3 German Civil Code pertains.

The tour operator must ensure that the travel price is refunded to the tourist should travel services be cancelled due to the organiser's insolvency (§ 651 k BGB). This also applies to any necessary expenses for their return. The tour operator must guarantee coverage. This means that they must provide the tourist with a direct claim against a bank or an insurance company that provides bankruptcy protection. Proof of insolvency coverage must be given to the tourist by submission of a coverage certificate.

Insolvency protection is also mandatory for travel agencies that offer package tours on their own responsibility and must therefore be treated as tour operators (see Question 4).

The requirement to provide insolvency coverage also applies to tour operators headquartered abroad, provided that they conclude package tour contracts with consumers who are usual residents of Germany and provided that they target consumers in Germany.

If the tour operator is headquartered in a different EU Member State or EFTA State, it is sufficient for them to issue the tourist with a guarantee in accordance with the provisions that apply in the country in question, provided that this guarantee meets the requirement set out in § 65 k (1), sentence 1 of the German Civil Code [BGB]. This means that double insolvency coverage is not required in most cases. None of this applies to tour operators that are based outside the EU or an EFTA State. They require the same insolvency coverage as a tour operator based in Germany.

Note: This text provides general advice only and is neither exhaustive nor legally binding.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy does not provide legal advice for individual cases. This task is the responsibility of the members of the legal professions, especially lawyers. This site cannot and is not meant as a substitute for individual legal advice. We would therefore recommend that you consult a specialised lawyer or a dedicated advisory service to help with your individual questions and queries.

There is no legal obligation to classify hotels in Germany. Hotels may volunteer for classification by the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA). Hotel associations from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have established the Hotelstars Union - a joint hotel classification system which has since been joined by associations from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Belgium, Denmark and Greece. For further information, please visit the DEHOGA website (in German) or go to www.hotelsterne.de.

Note: This text provides general advice only and is neither exhaustive nor legally binding.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy does not provide legal advice for individual cases. This task is the responsibility of the members of the legal professions, especially lawyers. This site cannot and is not meant as a substitute for individual legal advice. We would therefore recommend that you consult a specialised lawyer or a dedicated advisory service to help with your individual questions and queries.