Norbert Kettner | Ambassador to Vienna’s Vacationists

The general manager of the Vienna Tourist Board, Norbert Kettner, shared his plans for “reputation management” and coined our new favorite phrase: Lifestyle Spießer


Café Diglas im Schottenstift

As we joined him on a cold November afternoon, our conversation with Norbert Kettner turned easily to luxury – a topic Vienna’s tourism sector is certainly no stranger to. However, Kettner believes that our understanding of the concept has evolved.

“We’re living in an era of post-luxury,” he explained. “The traditional term ‘luxury’ from the post-war era had a promise of salvation that is now obsolete. Many people don’t feel that classical luxury is worth striving for.” He conceded that we are approaching the subject from a position of unbelievable wealth in Europe and North America. We may say, “money is not so important,” but that’s because, as a society, we have plenty of it.

In the tourism sector, the city of Vienna has taken such societal shifts to heart. Rather than being outsiders bathing in the city’s luxuries, today’s visitors want to become engulfed in its culture. Last year Vienna welcomed 6.6 million arrivals and Kettner noted the dawn of what he called “culturally sensitive tourism,” a particularly sustainable way of treating the destination. “But in truth is it’s even more irritating. People always want to get some kind of affirmation from the natives and that’s really annoying.” Kettner thinks there’s no need to choose a certain type of tourism; cities provide people with the opportunity to coexist  yet not “crawl into the life of the other person.”

But the increased quantity of tourist arrivals is not what most concerns the Viennese. After all, he noted that a century ago the city was home to 400,000 more citizens than it has today and that Vienna’s streets are relatively uncrowded. “When visitors from New York City or London come here on very busy days, they ask if it’s a holiday,” said Kettner. “It’s not about the quantity of tourists, it’s about the tourist traps.” He recounted the concerns of  his counterparts from Prague. “No one lives in the old town of Prague anymore. There are also no normal shops, not even luxury stores.” He furrowed his brow, “It’s only junk and souvenir shops.” That’s a future for Vienna he is working to avoid.

So the Vienna Tourist Board is shifting its strategy  away from outlining the conventional reasons for visiting a city to what he calls “reputation management.” The idea is to spread a bit of the Viennese way of life, something people can experience and share.

Today, he said, we’re less involved in amassing “bling bling” and more inclined to see extravagance and eccentricity as a luxury in itself. Kettner is talking about people that “go against the mainstream,” not because they want to be non-conformist, but because that’s just the way they are. He calls mainstream people Lifestyle Spießer, or lifestyle squares.

The thrust of the Tourist Board’s rebranding still holds out tradition as a magnet, but Kettner stressed that it’s “only relevant tradition.” For him that includes ball season, since the past 10 years have seen more young people going to balls, and new events are being introduced. The same goes for coffee houses. “The big city trend is toward monocultures: the hipsters live here, the old people are pushed out, the rich people live over there…” But coffee houses are one of few places where you’ll still find “a university professor next to a construction worker, and a socialite next to a student.”

He doesn’t think that nostalgia has brought about a new appreciation of traditions, but rather a longing for orientation in an increasingly globalized world. He thinks we can avoid the fate of cities like Prague and still retain the freedom that keeps Vienna’s traditions authentic.

Where to find Norbert Kettner this winter

Prater Hauptallee

This is Kettner’s favorite place to go running “in order to continue my perpetually fruitless efforts to lose weight.” The tree-lined boulevard is four kilometers long and leads cyclists, horseback riders, joggers and strollers all the way to the illustrious Lusthaus.

Gasthaus zum Agnesbrünnl

Like a getaway, without getting too far away, this place is in the middle of the woods on the highest mountain in Vienna, the Hermannskogel, even though it is still within the city limits. Kettner thinks the food lives up to the location, as well.

The Colour Wood-cut in Vienna around 1900 at the Albertina.

This is a reworking of the sociopolitical dimension of color woodcuts. Through their capacity to be reproduced and ready availability, they became “art for everyone.”

The Better Half. Jewish Women Artists Before 1938, at the Jewish Museum Vienna.

It tells the story of the battle for recognition in a male-dominated art scene, but also of promising careers that were interrupted by forced displacement and exile, or ended forever in the Nazi death camps.

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Maggie Childs
Margaret (Maggie) Childs is the CEO and Publisher of METROPOLE. Originally from New York, Vienna has been her home since high school. She is known for non-stop enthusiasm, talking too fast, inhaling coffee and being a board member of AustrianStartups, where she helps entrepreneurs internationalize. Follow her on Instagram @maggie_childs and twitter @mtmchilds.

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