Viennese Tourism is Fighting for Survival

Organizations and hotel businesses are vowing to save the city’s summer tourism with advertising campaigns directed at locals and guests from neighboring states.

The gardens at Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace will be much quieter this summer.  Without the international tourists, who make up 60% of Viennese overnight guests, the fallout from the global travel restrictions to contain the coronavirus outbreak will be particularly dire for the Austrian capital.  After years of rising tourism, the Viennese tourism industry, led by the city’s tourism agency, WienTourismus and the city’s varied hotels are now launching new marketing campaigns catering to locals and guests from the DACH-region (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland).   

In a new campaign, “World Tour in Vienna,” announced May 29, Mayor Michael Ludwig, Finance and Tourism Councilman Peter Hanke and WienTourismus Director Norbert Kettner, hope to rekindle locals’ appetite for the city’s architecture, cultural landmarks and restaurants, so that they can “rediscover” the city.

The campaign presents Vienna as the international and metropolitan city it once was and is again, the seventh-largest city in the world and fourth-largest city in Europe. With a light touch and not a little wit, WienTourismus depicts how visitors can travel the world in just 0.80 days without leaving the city: “From Venice (Dogenhof) to Athens (Theseus Temple in the Volksgarten) in under 15 minutes, from France (Bistrot “La Mercerie” in the Servitengasse) it only takes 30 minutes to get the tropics (Palmenhaus in Schoenbrunn).

The journey from Japan (Vienna Peace Pagoda) to Russia (Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas) takes just 35 minutes, the oriental-style Zacherl factory in the 19th district lures in with “entry allowed.”

High Life with “ivie”

To help the home tourist, WienTourismus has developed an App called “ivie,” available in both English and German, which will serve as a personal travel guide, providing insider tips and ideas for outdoor activities within the city. Coupled with a new “Experience Edition” Vienna City Card, offering 20% discounts in restaurants and activities, WienTourismus hopes to revive Austrian’s curiosity to explore the rich Viennese culture on their doorstep. And with the reopening of borders to all neighboring countries, excepting Italy, effective June 4, the organization also hopes to reach travelers from outside of Austria, especially guests from the DACH-region. 

Elsewhere in Austria, other tourist hotspots, including Hallstatt or the Wörthersee, are also

launching advertisements directed at locals and German-speaking guests. However, compared to the city, where DACH-visitors only make up 39% of the summer bookings, Germans comprise nearly half of the overnight guests in other states. This puts the tourism industry in states like Kärnten or Tirol at a clear advantage.

Lakeside and mountain destinations additionally offer guests unique experiences of the countryside, which is the focus of the Austrian Travel Portal’s campaign that aims to encourage domestic holidays. “We have seen a slight change in values among the local population due to the corona crisis,” said Claudia Riebler, a spokesperson for the online travel guide. “The issues of freedom, nature, security, home, and sustainability are weighted more strongly and serve as a pointer for locals to rediscover Austria as a vacation destination.” 

But while a lakeside stay is perceived as relaxing, a city tour in Vienna is seen as stressful, which makes attracting guests to the capital particularly challenging. “Viennese tourism is suffering and has endured major slumps since March,” Riebler said. “Strengthening tourism in the city is difficult at the moment because the city depends on international guests, whose arrival depends on air traffic.” 

Reaching New Customers

Viennese hotels, very aware of their disadvantage, are initiating individual outreach campaigns to draw in local guests. In collaboration with other Austrian hotel owners, Otto Wiesenthal, owner of the Boutique Hotel Altstadt Vienna in the seventh district, launched a campaign titled “We are Opening for Austria.”By strengthening local advertising, Wiesenthal hopes to reach the local market and increase summer bookings. He had some initial success over the long Pentecost weekend: While only one-third of its usual rate, occupancy was far higher than expected, with guests from Kärnten and Vorarlberg. Looking ahead to the summer season, Wiesenthal is projecting the occupancy rate to climb to 40%.

“It will take a while, but Vienna is well-positioned to recover fast,” Wiesenthal said. “We are now the greenest city, the city with the highest quality of life, and have the highest security in the country, which will all work to our advantage.”  

Not all managers are so optimistic: Matthias Winkler, CEO of the famed Sacher Hotel in the first district, anticipates revenues at only 10% of last year. He expects business to remain stagnant this summer and doesn’t believe the opening of EU borders and restart of air travel will bring in many new bookings. “We are dependent on the cultural offerings, such as the Viennese State Opera,” Winkler said. “Vienna is a cultural city. Without the cultural experiences, the situation will continue to be difficult for restaurants and hotels.” 

Adapt & Survive

In the coming months, the Sacher Hotel plans to target regular guests and ground travelers, the guests from neighboring countries who arrive in Vienna by car or train. To appeal to them, the hotel is boosting advertising on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The business offers prospective visitors a taste of the true luxury hotel.

“To survive the crisis, the company has to adapt,” Winkler said. “This means accepting the situation, being much more flexible than in the past in designing and controlling our business, and combating the challenge with innovation.”

Despite the current situation, Hotel Sacher, much like other hotels, remains optimistic about the future, as Viennese tourism has overcome similar declines in the past. “We will orient ourselves on the 2002 and 2008 financial crises, which both similarly had a very strong and long-reaching impact on tourism,” said Winkler. “We assume the recovery from the current crisis will take three to four years, and accepting this new reality is part of the process.” 

(Foto: © WienTourismus/ Peter Rigaud)

Amina Frassl
Amina is Metropole's online content manager. She writes about news and news analysis and commutes between Vienna and Berlin as she completes her studies in journalism and politics at NYU.

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