Downing giant-sized glasses of beer at Munich’s Oktoberfest in tents teeming with dirndls and lederhosen is a temptation millions can’t resist. Some will even pay 58,000 euros ($75,000) for the privilege.
That’s what Aviation Broker GmbH, a Frankfurt-based company that rents private planes, is charging eight Russians to fly from Moscow to the world’s biggest festival — beer and housing extra. When they arrive at this year’s party, which started September 20, they’ll be treated to the first new tent at the event in three decades.
The 204-year-old festival, begun to honor Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage, has become a booming business for Munich, with vendors, airlines, hotels and restaurants reaping millions of euros in profit. The 6.4 million visitors last year to the “Wies’n,” as the locals call it, pumped a total of 1.1 billion euros into the local economy, according to city data.
“It’s a huge, jolly festival that in some ways has become bigger and more well-known than Munich itself,” said Christian Fries, a native of the city who regularly attends.
Siegfried Able, a 50-year-old gastro entrepreneur who previously managed a small Oktoberfest concession, certainly understands the draw. He beat out 19 others for the once-in-a- lifetime chance to run one of the 14 big tents. For a city that favors the tried and tested, it took the tax evasion conviction of the previous owner to usher in the first new main location since 1984, when a wine venue was added.
“Running our own, large Wies’n tent is a dream come true,” Able said last week while preparing his tent, which will seat the traditional oompah band on a carousel-shaped podium with turning horses. “The challenge as a Wies’n host is to offer an unforgettable experience.”
Politicians flock to Oktoberfest to drink with the masses, and companies plan events around it. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Joh. Berenberg and Gossler & Co. KG will hold their annual German Corporate Conference, one of Germany’s largest investor events, next week in Munich. UniCredit SpA will host a similar gathering, which culminates in a trip to the Paulaner beer tent, run by one of the city’s best-known brewers.
Even Warren Buffett is getting in on the act. NetJets Inc., the private plane operator owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., is planning more than 60 flights to and from the Bavarian capital during the festival. Customers heading to Oktoberfest jumped 32 percent in 2013, and the carrier expects further growth this year, with most of its flights to the Wies’n coming from Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
“We have higher traffic needs at Wies’n time,” said Carsten Michaelis, the head of NetJets operations in central and eastern Europe. “And if they want a Muenchner Helles beer for onboard refreshment, we can arrange that for them.”
A record 885,000 passengers passed through Munich airport in the last week of September in 2013, almost 20 percent more than the weekly average. For private flights, the number of departures will rise to as many as 1,000 this month, 25 percent higher than the monthly average, according to Bjoern-Alexander Schmidt of PrivatPort Munich GmbH & Co. Deutsche Lufthansa AG crews flying guests to the Bavarian capital will dress in full traditional folk costumes.
Hotels are also cashing in, doubling the price for rooms during the festival. The cost of the few rooms still available on the weekends of the 16-day extravaganza for mid-range accommodation starts at 200 euros, according to Munich’s tourism office. The same room would generally go for about 100 euros.
First held in 1810 to mark the marriage of Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, the celebrations were repeated in following years, and later moved forward to September to allow for warmer weather. The festival, still held at the same location about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the city center, has spawned 2,000 similar events around the globe.
For those operating a venue at the Munich original, there’s a financial bonanza to be had. The previous tent owner who was convicted of tax evasion said during his trial that he earned 1.5 million euros in profit annually at his location.
Of the 14 large tents, only five come up for tender each year, with the remainder permanently held by Munich’s breweries and other clubs. Applicants are ranked by a points system, with a final, non-public decision by the city council. Criteria, including experience as an Oktoberfest host, mean concessions usually stay with the same organizers for decades. The city declined to comment on the selection process.
Able went all-in with his bid, deciding not to reapply for his 300-seat venue, which he ran for the last six years. He started hiring personnel and building a tent for 4,000 guests months before the decision was made.
“In previous years, we also applied to run a large tent a number of times and were always highly ranked but missed out,” Able said. “That’s why in 2014 we took the risk and only applied for a large one.”
He still hasn’t been admitted into the prestigious club of main tent owners headed by Toni Roiderer, who has managed his Oktoberfest location since 1989. After Able won the license, Roiderer said he was surprised a “kiosk owner who just runs a small tent” beat more experienced applicants.
While the two have since ended the spat with a handshake, Roiderer said he will only decide after this year’s Oktoberfest whether to let Able into the club. For the millions heading to the event, Able is already on the inside with his new Marstall tent decorated with a quadriga of horses at its gable and heart- shaped windows: it’s the first thing they see when the enter the hallowed grounds.
–With assistance from Alex Webb in Munich.
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