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Hotel prices in Düsseldorf shoot up to legendary heights during ProWein: Fair guests and exhibitors often pay more than four times the usual price. Many vintners are therefore already foregoing their stand at the fair. And the prices continue to rise. But why? Matthias Stelzig asked.

© Constanze Tillmann

The price was sensational: 40 euros with breakfast - for a room right in the centre of Düsseldorf. Underground right in front of the door. What more could you want for a night on a business trip? On site, there's an upgrade to a Junior Suite that deserves its name. An estimated 50 square metres, and everything newly renovated. In the café next door, breakfast alone costs 11.90 euros. Düsseldorf has a wide range of offers: outside ProWein, there are inexpensive hotels for less than 50 euros. So why not book the same hotel for the fair? Because then it costs four times as much or even considerably more. Many ProWein visitors know the moment when you stare in disbelief at the price when booking online. If you want to book a hotel for the Fair - or even much earlier - you don't need to start looking for less than 150 euros per night. But these days, you can only get a simple hotel room for 40 euros a night at other times of the year.

But these horrendous surcharges are standard in Düsseldorf. Why is that? Thorsten Hellwig clears his throat. The press spokesman of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association of North Rhine-Westphalia (DeHoGa) explains that he cannot confirm this. And he adds something well-known: "You can't say that across the board. High demand generates high prices. It's comparable to hotels in holiday resorts in the high season or flights at holiday time." Is that really so?

Relaxed wine trip at the price of a visit to the fair

The holiday comparison is lame: Even at peak times like the summer holidays, prices do not quadruple at holiday hotels by any means. Moreover, they are aimed at a very large number of guests. During ProWein, on the other hand, only the special group of exhibitors, service providers and trade fair visitors suffers. Those who don't go further afield and accept long travel times quickly end up with hotel costs of considerably more than 1,000 euros - per person. Together with the already high expenses for travel, restaurant visits and often long taxi rides in the evening, this adds up to very considerable sums. Visitors who are not able to claim expenses can therefore make a different calculation: instead of the expensive stress of the fair, they can travel to an interesting wine region at their leisure for this amount of money. You learn more - and can buy good wine in peace.

This is damaging the wine fair and also the industry: very many vintners, for example from Austria and Italy, no longer take part in the fair. The reason is only one: the extremely high costs. This is also confirmed by the wein.plus editorial team's enquiry with several vintners from these countries. "Why should I spend several thousand euros just for a few new contacts? That's a waste of money. I'd rather invest that amount in good marketing," says an Italian winegrower who does not want to be named.

Hotel ships and caravan sites as alternatives

The Düsseldorf trade fair company is also at a loss. "Unfortunately, nothing has changed there in the last few years," says press spokeswoman Christiane Schorn disappointedly, "as organisers of the fair, we have no influence on the hotel industry." To ease the burden, the organisers have organised large river cruise ships that are moored on the banks of the Rhine as floating trade fair hotels and offer around 350 overnight places. However, a cabin there also costs 275 euros. But at least that takes a little pressure off the market. Guests can also arrive by motorhome. Thanks to the busy caravan fair in Düsseldorf, there are plenty of pitches with all the comforts. Nevertheless, this offer hardly helps with the many thousands of exhibitors and visitors at ProWein.

Hoteliers can set their prices without any upper limit. There is no legal regulation. The pricing of a hotel chain, for example, is often done at the head office - and the head office only reacts to demand. Whoever presses the button there is hardly interested in the fair and its visitors. "But that's very short-sighted," says Schorn. In Frankfurt, where the prices are similarly overpriced for the Book Fair, for example, the hoteliers have almost gone over the top: The organiser was on the verge of changing the location a few years ago.

Only 35 per cent bed occupancy in Düsseldorf

In Düsseldorf, trade fair visitors from the wine industry pay the hoteliers for their poor location conditions. Or, depending on how you look at it, their mismanagement. "Düsseldorf has a wide range of hotels. This also includes surrounding cities such as Duisburg, Essen or Mönchengladbach," DeHoGa expert Hellwig tries to smooth the waters somewhat. "The attractive hotel market in the city also offers all segments." True: From simple chain hotels to luxury hostels on Königsallee, there is a wide range. Modern, individualised chains have also pitched their tents here. In the upper middle-class district of Oberkassel, for example, a glittering "me and all hotel" opened last year with 249 rooms and a stylish living room flair in the spacious lounges. Or the "b'mine", where you can park your car right in front of your room.

The entire region around Düsseldorf is highly dense: Almost 40 percent of all EU citizens live within a radius of only 500 kilometres. International corporations like Metro, Vodafone, E.ON, Degussa and Henkel have their headquarters or European base here. That generates a lot of business travellers, you might think. But that is precisely not the case: Düsseldorf hotels recorded slightly rising occupancy rates until 2019. But the occupancy rate was at a low level of 40 to below 50 percent. Last year, a room cost an average of 110 euros. This results in third place behind Berlin and Munich. In the Corona months, occupancy plummeted to a dramatic 21 per cent, only to recover abruptly in 2022.

The Federal Statistical Office records around 50 per cent more overnight stays nationwide in January 2023 than in January of the previous year, but still ten per cent less than in 2019. In Düsseldorf, however, only slightly more than a third of hotel beds were occupied in 2022, at 35 per cent.

Nevertheless, new hotels are constantly opening in Düsseldorf. They could make the trade fair visit more comfortable for the ProWein visitor. But more people will hardly come between the fairs just because there are more hotel rooms. To make full use of the freshly made beds, the hotels would have to count a full million more overnight stays. But this is not happening - and so exhibitors and trade fair visitors have to compensate for the lack of occupancy in their balance sheets with sometimes absurdly high hotel prices.

Investor companies that turn the big turnover wheels in the village on the Düssel are therefore calling loudly for politicians. They should finally create more incentives for tourism. An opera house, for example - preferably as attractive as the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.

Düsseldorf has a respectable range of art, opera and classical music. The visual arts scene is even one of the best in Germany. When it comes to rock and pop, the offer is rather mixed, from the Toten Hosen to the pop singer Heino. There are plenty of concert halls. There's also something to look at: the old town, Königsallee, the Rhine promenade and the media harbour are all worth a look. But Düsseldorf is not Hamburg. And that's why no one wants to spend their holidays here.

"You have to see how it develops," says even Hellwig, who as a lobbyist could actually cheer. Besides the traditionally volatile business, "we are still in the post-Corona phase. The market will change and reposition itself." Well, then: "To Another Great Year."

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