How many Germans are international travelers?

Germans have a reputation as travelers. They even claim to be the Reiseweltmeister (world champions of travel). Indeed, many citizens of Germany do travel abroad and in Germany. If you visit US national parks, as I did this month, you could get the impression that Germany is almost empty, and that most of the country’s population is in the US this summer. You will often overhear German, French and other languages as you hike the trails of Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon.

But in 2009 (the latest year for which statistics are available), Germans represented just 5.8 percent of all foreign visitors to the United States, totaling 1,881,944, a bit fewer than in 2008. That means that in 2009, barely two percent of all 82 million Germans crossed the Atlantic to tour the USA. Not only that, the Germans ranked only fourth after Mexicans, Britons and Japanese. (Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, fiscal years 2007 to 2009.) The total for Germans visiting the USA is almost as high as the number of Americans visiting Germany (2,206,339 arrivals in 2010; .07 percent of the US population).

In 2009, the leading countries for non-resident [tourism in the US] were Mexico (19 percent), the United Kingdom (14 percent), Japan (10 percent), and Germany (5.8 percent)… These four countries accounted for nearly half of all [foreign visitors to the US]. – U.S. Department of Homeland Security (PDF)

Impressions can be deceiving. Just because one happens to notice a lot of German tourists in the usual locations in the US does not necessarily mean that most Germans are international tourists. Indeed, the top travel destination for most Germans is Germany itself. Next come Italy, Spain (including Majorca), Austria, Turkey and France. Outside of Europe, North America (Canada and the US) ranks fourth after Africa (Egypt, Tunisia, Marocco, South Africa), the Caribbean/Central America (Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica) and Asia (Thailand, China Vietnam).

But the Germans, with only about a fourth of the population of the US, outspent Americans in 2009 by $16 billion on foreign travel: Germany $88.2 billion, USA $72.7 billion.* The German figure represents a drop of about $1.3 billion from the previous year.

In an earlier blog (Vacation versus Urlaub), I wrote about how the Germans enjoy many more paid vacation days than Americans. Although the average German vacation trip in 2009 lasted 10.7 days (a decrease from 11 days in 2005), the average paid vacation time in Germany is 34 days per year. Many Germans have both the time and the money to travel, whether they go to the US or elsewhere. But only about two percent of them visit the United States in any given year.

*Deutscher ReiseVerband (DRV)