Business and tourism leaders in Berlin fear shops will be forced to close and hotels run empty as the crippling public transport strike enters day nine on Thursday, March 13, with no end in sight.
“The city’s economic growth is under threat,” the head of the chamber of commerce in the German capital, Jan Eder, told AFP news agency, one week after buses, trams and the underground first ground to a halt.
As news of the situation in the German capital spreads around the world, tourism is expected to be the first industry to feel the pinch.
“If the strike continues in weeks to come, the world will take note and the number of bookings will start to drop,” said Christian Taenzler, spokesman for Berlin Tourism Marketing (BTM), in an interview with German daily Die Welt.
“The reliability of its public transport system has always been an asset to Berlin when it comes to international marketing,” he added. “But the strike is badly tarnishing its image.”
Adding insult to injury, the Verdi union announced earlier this week it intended to continue the strikes into the Easter holidays, when visitor numbers to the city will inevitably rise.
BTM’s head Peter Nerger has warned that up to 250,000 jobs in the tourism industry are now in peril.
Shops, meanwhile, have already seen trade drop by an average 20 to 30 percent and a few businesses have reported a 50 percent loss in turnover, according to the retail federation HDE.
“Some stores could close if this carried on much longer,” HDE spokesman Hubertus Pellengahr told AFP. According to the chamber of commerce, late deliveries are also proving a serious problem.
Tourism, the mainstay of Berlin’s economy
Negotiating the vast German capital has become markedly more difficult for tourists without an operational tram and underground network, while tourism experts say the cancellation of the city’s Number 100 bus route, which takes in many of Berlin’s top attractions, is a particular blow. That’s not all.
“The hotels and restaurants have been faced with a sharp drop in business. It is no mystery, we all know that at the moment we don’t eat out, in fact we don’t go anywhere,” said Thomas Lengfelder, head of the Hoga hospitality federation.
The strike is hitting Berlin where it hurts. Without a significant industrial or financial sector, the city is burdened by debts of some 60 billion euros ($93 billion) and is well aware that tourism is its potential salvation.
The industry has been gathering momentum in recent years, with a record 7.6 million tourists visiting in 2007.
Nonetheless, surveys show that 57 percent of Berliners are sympathetic to the strikers, with support stronger in the east of the city than in the west and most pronounced among the younger generation.