General Manager of the Americas
German National Tourist Office
Ricarda Lindner is wrapping up her first year running the German National Tourist Office for the Americas, based in New York. But she is no newcomer to the U.S. Frankfurt-born Lindner has been working for the GNTO in New York for the last ten years, with a focus on marketing. Over lunch at Elite Traveler’s headquarters, she talked about Germany’s value to be found in the country, especially when it comes to luxury experiences; how the dining scene there stacks up to France; and why important anniversaries for Bauhaus architecture and the fall of the Berlin Wall make this the best time to travel to Germany.
ET: How did your career path lead you to this new position?
Ricarda Lindner: I have been with the GNTO for ten years, and came to New York from Germany. I started in marketing, and became deputy, and when the top position became available it was natural to step up and apply for the job.
ET: How has the global recession impacted the way Germany presents itself as a travel destination, especially for the luxury traveler?
Ricarda Lindner: We were dealing with the challenge of a strong Euro before this, and communicated about the value-for-money that Germany offers. So we had that focus, and when the economy rolled, we expanded on that platform. We’re not promoting inexpensive Germany, but value in Germany. For instance, a five-star hotel in Berlin is a fraction of the cost of a five-star hotel in Rome or London. And tickets for everything cultural, from operas to museums, are affordable because the government supports those organizations, making cultural institutions available to everyone.
ET: What are some of the luxury experiences that travelers shouldn’t miss in Germany?
Ricarda Lindner: It depends on where your interests lie. If you are a cultural buff, museums in Berlin and its opera houses are wonderful. There is also the Meissen porcelain manufacture near Dresden, where you can purchase the beautiful pieces and also see how they are crafted and still hand-painted today. Germany has wonderful hotels, and following France it has the most Michelin star restaurants—with the chefs still working in the kitchens! There are seven in Berlin alone, and in Germany you can get into these three-star restaurants. There is also Baden-Baden, the royal spa town, whose casino does not have an equal in the world—not even Monaco. If you have an interest in cars, take delivery of a new Porsche and race your new car around the test tracks. Germany has something for all of that. I call it the three Cs: culinary, cars and culture.
ET: How do you see elite travelers’ interests changing?
Ricarda Lindner: Now, for them, it is more about the real experiences in a destination. They will take their family on a trip to Germany for a birthday, and then the visit is more about the experience together than their daily itinerary. Germany joined Virtuoso this year, and their luxury travel agents tell us bookings have slowed, but they are above average in price. Everyone today is looking for an add-on rather than a price reduction. So it’s more about the goodwill created by a complimentary car transfer or cocktail than the price saved. This is happening at the highest level.
ET: How do you prefer to travel?
Ricarda Lindner: My favorite is exploring my family’s cultural heritage. I love traveling within the U.S. But now that I have a young family I go back to Europe a lot, so my daughter can have one leg in the U.S. and one in Europe.
ET: Are there any little-known places in Germany that a sophisticated traveler would love to discover?
Ricarda Lindner: This year, we find there is a lot of interest in Bauhaus architecture, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary. It is definitely a niche interest, you have to look into it to really understand it, but the Bauhaus has so much influence on our lives today. And in Germany there is so much to learn about it. We have an exhibition in Berlin, and Weimar, Dessau and Berlin have the most examples of Bauhaus architecture, such as the Klee House in Dessau.
This year there is also a focus on active vacations. Germany is not just about the cultural richness of its cities, but the explorations of the countryside, by hiking or biking. I really love biking the remnants of the Berlin Wall, as a way to see how the city has evolved in the 20 years after the Wall’s fall. Or biking the wine-growing regions, driving along the Rhine River banks, stopping at castles, small villages and vineyards along the way for wine-tasting. This is a highlight!
ET: Is Germany seeing an increase in private jet travel?
Ricarda Lindner: The small airports have always been there, but now the airfields are open to receive private jets, so that is making so many more parts of Germany accessible for private air access. Also, Lufthansa and NetJets’ private jet program has been so successful. At the same time, on the commercial airline side, Lufthansa’s new lounge in Frankfurt is incredibly exclusive. And it provides these very high-end travelers with their own security, immigration services, transfers to and from the airport, etc. There is also a new lounge of this caliber in Dusseldorf. So yes, this traveler is more and more important.
ET: How else is Germany setting itself apart from other destinations that a luxury traveler would consider visiting right now?
Ricarda Lindner: Germany is really at the forefront of ecotourism and Green travel. I can say, having lived in various countries, that Germans are all used to separating their trash and making sure they each do their part for the environment. The act of not changing your hotel room towels daily as been part of the way of doing business in Germany for years. Not all European countries adhere to these practices, but we are a leading factor in this arena and want to be an example. In solar power, Germany is the leader too, and most solar panels that are used in the U.S. were made in Germany. So Green living is just a part of our daily life. Everyone is conscious of their actions. Now, Germany is taking a hard look at its Autobahn, and deciding if it is environmentally friendly. The train system throughout the country is already on another level, and it also has first class cabins. These are just some ways that Germans are showing their commitment to the country and the environment.