How are Hamburg’s managers handling digitalisation and how are they preparing for possibly disruptive change? Are people being brought on board? Hamburg News has put these and other questions to visionary business leaders at Philips, Hochbahn, Jungheinrich, NXP and HPA and of course, Michael Otremba, Manager of Hamburg Tourismus GmbH.
We meet in his eleventh-storey office in downtown Hamburg with views of the Elbphilharmonie. Otremba likes to talk standing up and the height of his desk can be adjusted at the press of a button. In office for just over a year, Otremba is Manager of Hamburg Tourismus GmbH and the Hamburg Convention Bureau GmbH and is also co-director of the parent company Hamburg Marketing GmbH.
Hamburg News: You arrived in Hamburg just over a year ago from Munich, which must seem quiet by comparison. Have you settled in well?
Otremba: Definitely. No question…in a city like Hamburg and the people here. However, I still want to preserve my fresh, outsider view of the city and remain curious, query things and not take everything for granted.
Hamburg News: Instead of aiming for new record figures, the quality of tourism must improve. Can you explain that and how should quality be gauged in future?
Otremba: Naturally, the figures must be right. That is my task and will remain so. The Elbphilharmonie has triggered far more international attention for Hamburg. We wish to link up with that and make Hamburg better known on an international scale.
The people of Hamburg are increasingly important as well. Our work will be successful, if they accept urban tourism and get even more people excited about the city. So far, we have been able to rely on broad support. Now, we must ensure that that support continues.
Hamburg News: How do you wish to improve contact to potential guests?
Otremba: Local experiences must become more individual and we must tell stories in a modern way. Hamburg is full of contrasts – tradition and modernity. It’s raw in some places, lovely in others. Our presentation at the ITB travel fair toyed with phrases such as “Harbourcity & Kiezgraffiti”, “World Culture & Pub Tours“. Many stories can be told in that exciting field and for instance in magalogues rather than travel catalogues.
Hamburg News: What special challenges is the sector facing?
Otremba: Tourism is undergoing change. Just take digitalisation. It offers the sector among others a chance to talk to each individual guest. The chances of making direct contact with potentially 92 million people, who visit Hamburg every year, are greater than ever before. We must know more about individual guests, where they come from and their personal interests. At the moment, we do not have enough information. That is the prerequisite for individualised offers. That can raise the quality of the visitor’s stay noticeably – provided that guests want that, of course. Digitalisation will force us to find solutions for problems that we have not yet encountered. So basically we need to be open for new ways and opportunities of dealing with the digital world.
Hamburg News: To what extent do disruptive processes such as technical innovations that question entire business models affect tourism? Today’s virtual reality headsets allow you to travel without even getting off the sofa.
Otremba: At present, we cannot even imagine the possibilities. The risk of technical innovation is only the reverse side of its opportunities. Virtual reality views of the Elbphilharmonie are great and encourage people to take trips.
Hamburg News: Developing solutions for problems that we do not yet face, finding answers to questions that have yet to be posed. How do you do that?
Otremba: I am open and curious. I am 46 years old and no digital native. So I have no problem allowing a 20 year-old explain the technical aspects. That’s the direction of the hackathon that we held. Exciting digital projects have emerged from that. Brand eins and Statista have just distinguished us as one of the 424 most innovative companies. That shows that we are on the right path. But it also indicates that we must be faster and develop a culture of errors. Digitalisation teaches us to begin something without knowing the exact end. Innovations have to be wrong in order to be right.
Hamburg News: Elbphilharmonie, cruise shipping, new digital projects. How do you remain focused in view of all these issues?
Otremba: That works only with strong partners and a very good team who come along down this path. Leaders need followers. Otherwise we would be lonely walkers.
Interview by: Karolin Köcher