It is no secret that Austria is a second or third-tier European destination for American travelers, but with a classic Imperial European history, world class skiing and a culinary/winery scene to impress even the most discerning gourmands, there is no reason that Austria should not be rubbing elbows with the likes of Paris, London and Rome.
Travel Agent is just back from a four-day adventure in Vienna where we attended the first inaugural Austria Destination Summit, and we return to you more than impressed. For a country no larger than the state of Maine, it packs in two thousand years of history and a burgeoning tourism scene that is bound to explode over the next few years.
Austria in 2010
According to Dr. Petra Stolba, the CEO of the Austria Tourism Office, Austria seemed to fare well in 2009, holding 11th place globally in terms of international arrivals, welcoming 32.3 million last year, the second highest number that the country has ever seen in terms of tourism numbers. The figures for 2010 are showing an increase of 10 to 13 percent, according to Norbert Kettner, the managing director for the Vienna Tourism Board. "We owe this success to our partners," he says, referencing travel agents and suppliers.
Michael Gigl, the Regional Director for North America, elaborated, sharing with the group of approximately 65 travel agents, all affiliated with Virtuoso, Signature or American Express, that Austria has a vibrant Imperial Heritage, has been home to dozens of classical composers, has a vibrant coffeehouse scene, Christmas markets, Alpine skiing, historic villages and resorts, and world-class slopeside cuisine.
This year's campaign is Austria. Now or Never. "We did a survey and we learned that people described Austria as 'beautiful, elegant, classy and timeless.' But they also said that it would be beautiful next year. Don't wait too long. There is always a reason to visit," says Kettner.
In just four days in Vienna, we truly see this as a luxury destination. Travel Agent stayed at the Hotel Imperial, just one of the handful of five-star accommodations in the city. The city is also gearing up to welcome the new Sofitel in December and Shangri-La in the coming months. There is also talk of the Four Seasons opening a Vienna property, but the tourism board could not definitively say.
Looking to the Future
Next year's campaign will be called Austria. Unique Like You, which will kick off in March 2011. Gigl tells Travel Agent that the goal is to focus on hands-on experiences that are very specific and make it very easy to experience the culture.
We also learned that next October the tourism board will be holding symposiums in New York and Los Angeles for both agents and suppliers to further the partnership between the two and the expansion of tourism to Austria.
Austria has always had a strong presence on both coasts of the United States, but Travel Agent learned that there has been discussion to open up new nonstop connections. The tourism board could not confirm where the new flights would leave from, but we were told it would most likely be in the midwest.
Travel agents who wish to become experts in selling Austria can join the online expert program that has just launched a new version. Visit www.austriaexpertprogram.com.