Export surpluses: Tourism as a balancing factor

Germany has attracted increasing criticism for its longstanding, high export surpluses. The proposed solutions extend from higher government investments to higher wages and punitive tariffs. However, people often forget to consider the balancing and buffering function of tourism, which improves Germany’s trade balance.

The foreign trade balance is only half the story

The USA has been complaining in very strong terms about its trade deficit. But foreign trade statistics are just one side of the coin. They represent trade in physical goods, but not travel-related services and expenditure, where the ratio is reversed. If we compare tourist income and expenditure, the USA has an enormous surplus of around EUR 74 billion, which means that foreign tourists spend far more money in the USA than Americans spend in other countries. China and Germany, in contrast, are the two countries with the biggest deficits. German tourists spend around EUR 38 billion more in other countries than foreign tourists spend in Germany. Tourism actually reduces the German foreign trade surplus by around 15 percent! In fact, German tourist spending takes the pressure off industries such as the automotive, mechanical engineering and chemicals industries in the trade balance. 

Strengthening the tourism industry

That’s why it’s so important for us to boost the travel industry and eliminate the factors that are inhibiting it. We have to focus more on the framework for outgoing tourism and discuss factors such as the aviation tax that the German revenue authorities have been levying on all flights leaving Germany since 2011 – costing the tourism industry a billion euros every year. If tourism is to continue to offset the foreign trade surplus in the future, such obstacles must be replaced by more policies that take the positive effect on the foreign trade surplus and on developing markets into account.

Tourism drives development

German tourist spending in foreign countries doesn’t just improve the trade balance: it also offers perspectives to people living in emerging and developing countries. For every 15 people spending their holiday at a destination, one job is created there. Just one single aircraft based in Germany and flying twice a day with a full passenger load to Egypt safeguards around 9,000 jobs there. So the tourism industry is a strong development aid partner.