German cities have witnessed explosive growth as tourism destinations from the Middle East and Hamburg looks poised to be the next city to continue this trend.
Hamburg is a popular tourism destination with many international travellers and boasts a wealth of attractions, yet it remains relatively unknown to the Middle East market.
Over the last few years, visitors from the Middle East have flocked to German cities such as Munich and Düsseldorf in increasing numbers, but despite Emirates Airline operating a direct daily flight from Dubai to Hamburg, the city is relatively under visited by leisure by the FIT market.
"[But] Hamburg really does have everything you could want for in a destination," says Emirates Holidays destination development manager, Europe and the Americas, Marco Heinrich.
"Great culture, tremendous shopping, quality hotels and lots of things for families to do; it's just a case of getting the message out there. When we started promoting other German cities it took them a while to generate interest and I am sure this will be the same case for Hamburg."
Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and the second largest port in Europe, located on the southern point of the Jutland Peninsula, directly between Continental Europe to its south, Scandinavia to its north.
It is already a well established tourist destination reporting more than 7.4 million overnight stays in 2007.
The city accepts its lack of current exposure to the Middle East market and is taking steps to address the situation.
"If you ask me, Hamburg is Germany's best kept secret," reveals Renaissance Hotel head of marketing & sales, Monika Bloemberg. "There is so much to the city, such variety and culture that I think it is inevitable that our numbers from the Middle East will swell once they hear about the destination with all of the things on offer."
The four-star deluxe Renaissance Hotel located in the heart of Hamburg's busy city centre is an example of how Hamburg properties are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities the Middle East market affords.
"We have the option of Halal food and we try to get Arabic-speaking members of staff if we know we have a group from that region coming," says Bloemberg.
"Of course, we also know that they will want to stay in our top suite and we make sure it's prepared in the fashion that they like."
Hamburg should be an easy sell for agents; the city has many architecturally significant buildings; a myriad of canals that can be crossed by more than 2300 bridges; lakes of outstanding beauty; and areas of wildlife and parks filled with flora and fauna.
Hamburg also has a cultural maturity that boasts more than 40 theatres, 60 museum,100 music venues and clubs and a wealth of children's activities.
Agents selling to family groups should highlight the Tierpark Hagenbeck Zoo, a must-see particularly for families with young children, but also with enough variety to entertain the adults as well.
Hagenbeck has dispensed with fences to enclose the animals in favour of strategically dug trenches to separate the guests from the more dangerous inmates.
The result gives the visitors a real sense of proximity to the animals and the sense that they are content and well looked after.
Hagenbeck Zoo hosts 850 animals comprising 210 species from orangutans and northern leopards to elephants and giraffes.
The attraction also boasts a tropical aquarium that guests can tour from both overland and underground to observe the animals in tropical and sub-tropical habitats. Crocodiles and sharks will catch the eye of those with an interest in the more dangerous animals, while the huge tank of colourful fish will delight those on the look out for something cute.
From April 2009, Lindner Hotels and Resorts will open an animal-themed property next to the zoo that agents can recommend to clients with an interest in wildlife.
Lindner currently has another property in the Heart of Hamburg's city centre, the four-star Lindner Hotel AM Michel, but is looking to expand in anticipation of increasing tourism interest in the coming years.
"Guests from the Middle East will increase, there is little doubt about that,' says Lindner Hotel AM Michel director of sales and marketing Michael Lutz.
"With the newly planned property we want to be able to provide our guests with a unique feeling that they are in the heart of luxury and nature while still being connected to all of the other attractions that Hamburg has to offer.
"We expect good numbers to come from the Middle East once the promotions start taking root."
Agents should also recommend that families visit the Miniature Wunderland Museum, which contains one of the biggest mock-up railways in the world.
For older children recommend a tour of the Hamburg dungeon exhibition, featuring re-enactment and live interaction of events such as storm tide floods, the famous Hamburg fire and being chased by the holy inquisition. It may be a bit much for younger children, but teenagers will love it.
For shopping enthusiasts, Hamburg offers a refreshing alternative to the mega malls of the Middle East.
The city is littered with small malls and boutiques with plenty of luxury brands - both big labels and niche names - on offer.
Women with a shoe fetish will be in seventh heaven when they feast their eyes on the 115 different shoe shops, while clients seeking the latest fashion options should head to the Schanzen and Karoviertel quarters where style, chic and creativity are the bywords of the trendy stores located there. For those seeking more eccentric items, recommend the Eppendorf quarter.
This area around the city's university offers cinemas, pubs and cafés, book shops, grocery and wine stores, as well as vintage and designer boutiques, not to mention stores and stalls selling snacks from all over the world.
In addition, there's a chance to stroll the green avenues that are lined with many Art Nouveau buildings. Items like handcrafted jewellery, posters and film placards, tea, spices and antiques can be snapped up here.
Agents should also emphasise the cultural aspects of Hamburg.
New York and London aside, Hamburg is the third largest musical metropolis in the entire world.
One of the classics is Disney's Lion King in the grandiosely situated Theater im Hafen.
From Plattdüütsch to John Neumeier's ballet, just about everything is covered on Hamburg's many stages.
Hamburg has three state theatres: the grand Hamburgische Staatsoper, founded in 1678; the Deutsches Schauspielhaus; and the Thalia Theater. In addition, there are 313 theatres, concert halls and cabaret venues on offer from which to choose.
Hamburg is also one of the few places where you can tour the city by ship.
Packages range from inner and outer [river] Alster trips to canal tours and nostalgic steamer cruises as well as ‘Twilight Tours'.
For those that might prefer an aerial view of the city recommend a hot-air balloon trip provided by Ballons über Hamburg Company.
"There is so much here that a lot of visitors to Hamburg struggle to know where to start," says Hotel Atlantic Kempinski assistant director of sales Axel Mißner.
"The city is very cultural, but also naturally beautiful and vibrant with energy and activities happening all of the time."
Mißner claims that the 252-room five-star Hotel Atlantic Kempinski is ideally suited for Middle East guests.
"We are very mindful of what guests from that particular region require," he says.
"We can provide special prayer mats, we serve Halal food and have Arabic-speaking staff, while our top suites are inter-connecting so we can easily accommodate large family bookings."
Hamburg also has a busy nightlife scene so agents selling to younger travellers can recommend places where they can let their hair down more.
The Reeperbahn area in central Hamburg is the district where all the top clubs are located with a mix of musical options spanning hard rock, dance and chilled-out trance. Reeperbahn is also home to the Mandarin Kasino, rated one of the top clubs in Europe, hosting headline DJs and favouring the music types of Nusoul, hip hop and electro highlights.
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