Drawn by the beauty of Mount Rainier and the lore of the Wild West, increasing numbers of German tourists are finding their way to Pierce County.

“The Germans have five weeks of vacation each year,” observes Ruthie Reinert, executive director of the Tacoma/Pierce County Convention and Visitor Bureau. All that free time provides plenty of opportunity for long-distance travel, she adds. The average German visitor to America spends 20 days here.

The CVB has been aggressively encouraging the German trade, having hosted several visits by tour coordinators from there over the past five years. Last month, Reinert was part of a delegation representing Washington and Oregon that reciprocated with a visit to Berlin, where they manned a booth at the International Travel Exchange from March 11 to 15.

The annual show is the largest tourism exposition in the world, with 60,000 attendees from 195 nations, says Reinert. There, the Northwest delegates met with travel agents and tour operators, as well as journalists interested in far-off, exotic places such as Tacoma.

“We had 70 very successful appointments,” Reinert says.

Washington is the most popular destination of any state for German tourists. Fifty-two percent of German visitors to the U.S. list the Evergreen state as their primary destination. Twenty-two percent enter the U.S. at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, making it the top point of entry for Germans.

In 1998, 53,000 Germans visited Washington. Tour operators in Berlin told Reinert that even more Germans visited the state in 1999. Germans are the fourth-largest group of international visitors to Washington. Japanese are the top visitors to our state.

“They were particularly interested in the LeMay Car Museum and the Museum of Glass,” Reinert says of German tour operators. Fort Nisqually and Northwest Trek generate interest as well, she adds. But it is the majestic presence of Mount Rainier that most intrigues Germans.

“We’re lucky to be the gateway,” says Reinert.

By John Larson, Business Examiner staff