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German Vacation Habits (April 1, 2004)

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A Brief Typology of Tourists

It is obvious that tour operators do not like to give out information about this; such cases can cast a dark shadow over the sunny side of the company. You see, “100 meters to the sea,” as it says in the catalogs, does not necessarily mean “100 meters to the beach” – the precarious thing about the purchase of a vacation package (in contrast to the purchase of a stereo system) lies in the fact that the product cannot be adequately evaluated either before or during the purchase, and perhaps not even afterwards. Grievance managers will say only this much: complaints come from all classes of society. The journeyman plumber from Berlin asserts his presumed right to a vacation just as much as the doctor’s wife from Bielefeld, the New Economy manager from Hamburg as much as the history teacher from Passau.

These four individuals have been carefully chosen, as they embody, in exemplary fashion, the four different types of vacationers that tour operators expect to see when they create their products.

There is, first of all, the Berlin journeyman plumber as a package-deal vacationer. In the summer he travels to Mallorca and in the winter he might even go to the Diani Beach Club in Kenya, and on the drive to the airport of Berlin-Schönfeld he will be wearing shorts and white ankle socks even in February. At the beach he’ll expand his horizons, sample scuba diving or go on a day-safari to the Tsavo National Park. The Masai who dance around the tables at the buffet as they beat their drums are to him still “real negroes,” and after returning from his vacation he greets colleagues with “Jambo, jambo!”

The doctor’s wife from Bielefeld would not do anything like that. She is a creative vacationer, and although she books a package deal, there is something special about it. When the children were still young, the family once scrambled through the mountains of Nepal. A genuine trial! After that, they only went to the Robinson Club, childcare included. If the children are out of the house and the husband can’t find someone to fill in at the practice, she’ll try her hand at watercolor in the Provence or make pottery in Tuscany. With age she has become more sensitive as far as food is concerned, and a suntan is no longer a sign of a successful vacation. In her luggage she has a book by John le Carré, just in case, and on the flight back she buys body lotion by Biotherm in the Duty Free Shop for her sons.

The history teacher from Passau carries in his hard suitcase, apart from Baedeker, a recorder to tape the conversation with the tour guide as well as a pencil and notepad and a small ruler. He is the classic educational vacationer. In Egypt he measures the tomb chambers, and a temperature of 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) does not sway him to remove his wool sweater. If he sees a shoe shiner in the hotel, he walks on quickly and thinks: I am not a neo-colonialist!

The dynamic New Economy manager from Hamburg will always smile a little condescendingly at him, for the truly self-respecting person is a trend-vacationer. His destinations are hotels, it doesn’t matter which country they are in, the important thing is that they are “designed,” have a lounge, and inundate him twenty-four hours a day with chill-out music. Men’s Health is right on top in the trend-vacationer’s Samsonite – vacation to him also means working on his washboard abs. The trend-vacationer brings along his 3,500-Euro mountain bike or his surfboard. Sometimes he’ll travel alone, which reminds him of his student days, when he was on the road on his own with a neck pouch.

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