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2020: Difficult year for Cologne Tourism

2020: Difficult year for Cologne tourism
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Written by Harry Johnson

The downturn in tourism has been drastic, and its effects on the entire sector have been extreme. Nonetheless, things could have turned out even worse for Cologne.

  • Cologne Tourism recorded sharp downturn of visitor numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020
  • Cologne Tourism registered 1.44 million arrivals and 2.56 million overnight stays in the cathedral city
  • After getting off to a very good start into 2020 and having the best February of all time, tourism came to a complete halt in Cologne because of the worldwide travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the two lockdowns in March/April and November/December

The tourism business in Cologne was hard-hit in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The State Statistical Office of North Rhine-Westphalia, IT.NRW, registered 1.44 million arrivals and 2.56 million overnight stays in the cathedral city. These numbers represent a decrease of 62.3 percent for registered arrivals in Cologne’s hotels and 61.1 percent for overnight stays.

“The downturn in tourism has been drastic, and its effects on the entire sector have been extreme. Nonetheless, things could have turned out even worse for Cologne,” says Dr Jürgen Amann, CEO of the Cologne Tourist Board, as he assesses the situation. “During the first lockdown, we acted immediately to ensure that people continue to be aware of Cologne and us, and we worked together with the city authorities to launch the recovery campaign #inKöllezeHus (feel at home in Cologne),” he added. “This effort paid off when the restrictions were loosened during the summer months. We were able to attract many leisure visitors from nearby markets to our metropolis on the Rhine. We will continue this policy in 2021. We’ve planned many activities that will fill people with enthusiasm about Cologne.”

After getting off to a very good start into 2020 and having the best February of all time, tourism came to a complete halt in Cologne because of the worldwide travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the two lockdowns in March/April and November/December. These measures had dramatic long-term effects on the travel and event business in Cologne, which employs more than 30,000 men and women. The step-by-step opening during the four summer months livened up business and brought us an interim high.

Nonetheless, the trade fair and convention business that is so important for Cologne, along with a large proportion of business-related tourism, was at an almost complete standstill. In addition, because of the restrictions tourists from international source markets were generally not able to travel. This led to a structural change in the visitor mix, with an increase in leisure visitors from the German market, as well as the positive side effect of longer stays averaging 1.8 days.

Objective: Maintaining and reinforcing the tourism infrastructure

In 2021 the Cologne Tourist Board will continue its crisis management measures. The main objective is to support the partners and maintain the tourism infrastructure in Cologne. The recovery campaign #inKöllezeHus (feel at home in Cologne) will be expanded through the addition of a number of individual measures, including video clips on social media, an “Out of Home” poster campaign in a defined group of German conurbations, an OTA campaign with huge travel platforms in the nearby markets of Germany, Switzerland and France, and the “Discover Cologne Day”.

In the MICE segment, the recovery initiative “Cologne. Ready when you are” will support the city as a destination for trade fairs and congresses. In cooperation with the Europäisches Institut für Tagungswirtschaft (European Institute for the Conference Sector — EITW) a study of the recovery of Cologne’s MICE market is being conducted in order to identify the starting points for the city’s targeted acquisition activities after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

Transformation to a destination management organization is proceeding apace

In addition to the necessary crisis management activities, the company’s future-oriented reorientation into a destination management organization, which began in 2020, will be continued. This process includes structural changes, such as a newly established key account management system and the reinforcement of corporate communications. The Cologne Tourist Board’s substantive work will also be very clearly future-oriented. An analysis of the motivation of visitors to Cologne and a target group process based on this analysis will provide insights into the themes that can be used to spark future visitors’ enthusiasm about Cologne.

As regards development of the foreign markets, the Cologne Tourist Board will focus more strongly on special areas with promising potential. For example, the area of medical tourism will play an important role for Cologne over the long run in terms of the associated value added for tourism. Within the framework of increased digitalization, the company’s social media channels will be further expanded and reinforced by means of cooperation agreements with selected influencers. A Cologne-oriented podcast will go online in the spring.

In order to sustainably strengthen Cologne as a MICE venue, the Cologne Convention Bureau (CCB) of the Cologne Tourist Board will expand its future range of activities to encompass acquisitions. These efforts will be supported by cooperation with the German Convention Bureau (GCB) at the think tank “Future Meeting Space” and the “Virtual Venue”.

“Through this strategic development from destination marketing to destination management we are making the Cologne Tourist Board fit for the future. This is how we’ll play a major role over the long term in optimally positioning Cologne as a travel destination within our competitive sector. 2021 will become a year of transition,” says Dr Jürgen Amann about this outlook on the future. “We’re assuming that the flow of tourism to Cologne will recover and develop concentrically, coming first from the surrounding region and Germany as a whole, and then from neighboring markets such as Belgium and the Netherlands. Sector experts expect to see a normalization of tourism starting in 2023/24. In the long term, we too will once again be seeing record-breaking figures.”