The Black Forest Highlands has been awarded once again a ‘sustainable travel destination’, a distinctive mark that ever since 2016 has provided the region around Feldberg (1493 m, 4898 feet) and Lake Titisee continuous rewards for its environmental efforts. Incurring an extensive audit every three years, the State of Baden-Württemberg has created a certification system for destinations unique in the German speaking countries. And the outcome is obviously a remarkable win-win situation for visitors, hosts, and nature.
Breathing against all odds, visitors are happy about conveniences like e-car sharing, e-biking, and the free use of public transport. While design apartments, called ‘Kuckucksnester’, provide the feeling of being upgraded to an authentically regional style of comfortable accommodation, there are ‘Kuckucksstuben’ — restaurants focusing upon rural culinary delights to appease one’s appetite after intriguing hiking or biking, and – as far away as the thought may seem in the present summer heat – illumination on the prestigious Ravenna Gorge Christmas market is powered by renewable energy as other events are — solar-powered or supplied by wind, water, wood and biogas.
Needless to say, that the Black Forest Highlands Tourism Association as the regional Travel & Tourism promoter is proud of having succeeded in mobilizing numerous partners’ commitment to ecological, economic and social responsibility. Cross-sector cooperation plays a crucial role: the Tourism Board is supported by the hospitality and farming sectors, forest management, public transport and policy, accordingly. Mr. Thorsten Rudolph, the Board’s indefatigable CEO, imposes on concrete steps to help contain climate change, sell regional products, and sensitize both visitors and hosts – requirements whose value cannot be overestimated especially in times of political and economic turbulences and huge environmental and social challenges.
In a recent interview with Max Haberstroh, e-TN author, Thorsten Rudolph revealed that he and his team have become well aware of signs of time having changed – and how they think best to face challenges now and in the foreseeable future.
- e-TN: How do you evaluate the effect of COVID-19, regarding tourism development, staffers – and how about preventive measures against a new rise of the pandemic?
Thorsten Rudolph: We had serious faultings, short-time work, partial home office, restricted mobility – but no COVID infection. Keeping employees at the job was difficult. However, I am glad to say that we could maintain payment of salaries, therefore no layoffs, no job cancellations. — During peak months of the pandemic, we almost completely relied on domestic tourism, plus some visitors from neighboring countries, almost no foreigners. — With a reduced pandemic threat, however, this has changed: Foreigners are coming back, step by step, only visitors from Asia are still missing. Next year we will have reached pre-Covid level, we think, particularly in view of our efforts to improve services under critical conditions. Although no lockdowns in sight, there are other imponderables like inflation, the Ukraine war, lacking skilled workers – four to six million workers are missing! Training and advanced training is key to survival!
- e-TN: Has COVID-19 had any impact on the requirements of sustainability, mission/vision statement and strategy, operational business, mobility and aspects of globalization vs. local development?
Thorsten Rudolph: We did not change our sustainability stance, nor our entrepreneurial principles or mission statement, especially not our focus on authenticity. Our services are real, and our teams act hands-on, down-to-earth and absolutely no avatars! — Of course, we are working under globalized conditions, mobility goes ‘e’ like electric and environmentally friendly drives adjacent (shuttle buses run e-driven), and digitalization helps a lot on customized solutions for suppliers, for Internet and home-office. As a matter of fact, fast Internet is crucial, especially in rural areas.
- e-TN: How about the impact of the Ukraine war and its consequences on tourism in the Black Forest Highlands, in terms of refugees and their employment and integration?
Thorsten Rudolph: There is no major influx of refugees coming from Ukraine, and tourists from Russia have been missing. But we need more and more skilled workers from abroad, like Switzerland, Austria, France and why not Eastern Europe? — From Ukraine, of course!
- e-TN: Did you get aware of a change of priorities or even mentality regarding travelers on their travel planning and carrying through?
Thorsten Rudolph: Yes, there are effects due to perceived and factual constraints: There is a certain carelessness, virtues like accountability and seriousness seem to be fading away – to the detriment of service quality and with an impact on safety and public cleanliness! So, we put so-called ‘cleansing days’ on the internal tourism marketing and promotion agenda. Of course, I miss the earlier humility most travelers used to show, that has gone! People have become less patient and more irritated, even pretentious.
- e-TN: Have you taken steps against ‘overtourism’, or toward refined methods of targeting visitors, for instance?
Thorsten Rudolph: Overtourism here is usually limited to day visitors, overnight tourism is not concerned. Day visitors are transient travelers. Jointly with local recreationists, they make up for a kind of mass-tourism we don’t like. The idea of demanding an entry fee seems tempting, since visitors enjoy both infrastructure and natural heritage. There are examples in Venice and the U.S. — Furthermore, we will intensify our focus on targeting those kinds of visitors we really want to welcome, instead of spreading all-inclusive messages.