Vacation in Austria, Like the Habsburgs

The government is making a bid to save the summer tourism season by targeting Austrian guests.

Kaiser Franz Joseph I. spent his summers hiking in the Salzkammergut, Gustav Klimt painting in a boathouse on the Attersee, and Gustav Mahler composing on the shores of the Wörthersee. This year, with international tourism on hold, the Austrian Tourism Ministry hopes you will too.

Even as borders to neighboring countries begin to open, it is clear that coronavirus travel restrictions will mean a radically altered market for Austrian summer destinations. As a rule, foreign guests account for 70% of overnight stays in Austrian hotels and guesthouses, according to Statistik Austria.

And while nearby Germany – whose border will reopen to all travel on June 15 – is the industry’s most important market accounting for a full third of the total guests, caution may still keep many away, threatening 80% of overnight stays in Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Salzburg, and Carinthia. And then there are all those not coming from Asia, North America, or even the UK. Overall, the outlook for Austrian tourism is bleak.

Reviving the Sommerfrische

To save the summer, Tourism Minister Elisabeth Koestinger unleashed the €40 million “Vacation in Austria” campaign to attract German-speaking visitors. Additionally, the Austrian Travel Portal introduced its “Discover Your Own Country” campaign, advertising the region’s lakes, the Alps, and rich city culture in the domestic market.

“We want to attract Austrian guests and produce a desire among the population to spend their holidays here,” Claudia Riebler said, a spokesperson for the campaign. “We want Austrians to view their country as a vacation destination.” 

One such spot is the Ausseerland, whose alpine landscape and serene lakes serve as an ideal escape from the city heat. “After being isolated and stuck in the city, people are longing for the lakeside and mountains,” said Pamela Binder, CEO of the tourism office for the Ausseerland-Salzkammergut. “The historic Sommerfrische is having a renaissance moment right now.”

As its name suggests, the traditional Sommerfrische was long the Austrian city dweller’s migration to the countryside in the summertime. This year, many families are embracing this established ritual once again, arranging vacation rentals for extended periods, according to Susanne Tanzmeister, a landlord in Styria.

With its abundance of lakes and wonderful hiking trails at high altitudes, the country’s landscape is in pristine condition and among the most world’s beautiful. The water regions ranked second in the European Union’s yearly assessment of bathing areas. Austrians are starting to recognize the beauty of the landscape at their disposal, some of which they have never visited.

“Many Austrians are unfamiliar with Hallstadt because they have always feared mass tourism,” Riebler said. “Now, they are using the opportunity to visit the town for the first time.”

An important aspect of the domestic campaign is the government’s focus on widespread testing. By promising guests a corona-free stay, the government hopes to make Austria an attractive holiday destination. Starting July, the state plans to administer up to 65,000 coronavirus tests per week to prevent the spread of the virus. Priority will be given to employees who are in direct contact with guests, such as waiters.

Later, testing will be expanded to workers in the background, such as cooks and cleaning services. If a worker were to test positive for the virus, he or she would be asked to self-isolate, but the businesses will continue operating. Preliminary testing has already begun at five places in the country, including at the Kirchenwirt (Wachau), Montafon (Vorarlberg), Spielberg (Styria), Wörthersee (Carinthia), and at the Wilde Kaiser (Tyrol). 

Hotels, inns and guesthouses are also taking the necessary precautions. Disinfection and social distancing measures have been in effect since the reopening of hotels on May 29. In the rooms, disposable items, such as magazines and cups, are packaged, and even the minibars are empty, said Dominic Schmid, the head of the hotel businesses at the Austrian Economic Chamber.

Given the extreme uncertainty caused by the pandemic, people are particularly concerned about safety and seeking protection in their time off. “Guests are actively asking how corona measures are being handled in hotels and at tourist sites throughout the entire region,” Binder said. “Security has become a decisive criterion in people’s summer bookings.” 

Unlike the hard-hit cities, countryside tourism is already benefiting from the government’s initiatives. “Vacation tourism is quite well booked in Austria,” Schmid said. “And some of the lakeside spots are already full.”

Happy holidays, one and all!

Amina Frassl
Born in Vienna, Amina is now studying journalism and politics in New York City.

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