When it comes to first impressions, you’ve probably heard the saying that you never get a second opportunity to create a good one. Given this context, my thoughts towards Austria will always be influenced by my first visit there as a young student living in Paris when I was a teenager. During the coldest months of the year, we journeyed to Vienna on a magnificent train trip from Paris, where we discovered the city covered in snow and exuding fairy-tale splendor.
Despite the fact that I’ve been to Vienna several times since then and have had the opportunity to explore some of the city’s trendier parts in addition to its imperial grandeur, the halo effect from that first visit still lingers.
I asked Michael Gigl, regional manager for the Austrian National Tourist Office in the United States and Australia, for an update on the visitor experience today, now that Austria has emerged from the pandemic restrictions of the previous two years — including whether any lingering protocols from Covid precautions exist, as well as the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and he provided me with an update.
In regards to the conflict, he said that “So far, we have had relatively few cancellations, but there has been a perceptible decrease in the number of new reservations. Many passengers, I suppose, are stuck in a holding pattern.”
This is something Gigl is witnessing among his own friends, who are making plans to vacation around Europe for the summer season but are holding off on making a final decision until they have more information.
“In order to be effective, advisers must acknowledge and address their customers’ worries [about the conflict]. While this is going on, the fight may be found hundreds of kilometers away. Because the urge to return to Europe is so strong, I believe that the greatest thing an adviser can do is to prepare his or her clients for the trip. When your customers are ready to schedule a reservation, be present and completely prepared to assist them.”
A more positive note, Gigl said that Austria is completely open to everyone, and that it does not have the cumbersome laws and limitations that have plagued all of us, both domestically and internationally, during the epidemic.
In his words, “Of course, governments and health experts are continuously attempting to find a balance between keeping things safe for everyone while also returning things to normal.”
According to Gigl, masks are still necessary in most indoor locations for the time being. However, he cautioned that, as we have all learned, pandemic laws may and do change at any time, it is important to keep checking the austria.info website for the most recent information and updates.
The visiting experience is being rethought.
Austria, like many other places, took advantage of the delay in travel caused by the epidemic to reassess and fine-tune its tourist experience.
Outdoor eating, street cafés, and other aspects of the Austrian experience have long been a part of the country’s culture, but what has changed recently is an increased emphasis on sustainable tourism that benefits both tourists and the local population, according to Gigl.
“We are a nation of family-owned companies; in fact, over 90 percent of Austria’s hotels are owned and operated by family members. Our government placed a high priority on ensuring that the entrepreneurial tourist industry survived the epidemic in its entirety.”
As people begin to return to leisure travel, most Europe experts foresee a rise in nature-focused tourism. However, it’s difficult to imagine visiting Austria without taking in some of its most renowned towns.
According to Gigl, “it is really simple to mix city stays with rural experiences,” and “Salzburg serves as an excellent example since it is conveniently located near the Salzkammergut lake area as well as the beautiful grandeur of the Alps.”
“Alternatively, you may go to Innsbruck, the capital of the Alps, where it would take you just 20 minutes to get from downtown to the mountain top using public transit.”
While driving in Austria is relatively simple for North Americans, Gigl said that an increasing number of people are choosing for a private driver/guide experience in Austria.
A rail renaissance is underway.
Rail travel in Austria is also experiencing a renaissance, he added, with Vienna establishing itself as a European hub for intercity night trains, connecting Vienna not only with other cities in Austria, but also with cities such as Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rome, and Venice, among other destinations.
According to Gigl, “Austrian Railways has lately launched these new Nightjets, bringing back the joy and romance of the sleeping carriages,” which were formerly available.
Even for those who like to be outside, Vienna is likely to be on the agenda, particularly as the city is frequently the starting place for the trip.
Austria’s appeal to American tourists is such that the country ranked third in importance for the city’s tourism economy even during the pandemic’s peak season in 2009.
According to figures from the Vienna Tourist Office, 75 percent of tourists to the city come for the city’s thriving cultural scene. Visitors have approximately 30 museums to select from in the region between the University of Vienna and the Karlsplatz, which is less than half a square mile in size and covers less than half a square mile.
Included among the many new cultural attractions this year will be the reopening of the Lower Belvedere and the return of the Heidi Horten Collection to the Leopold Museum, which will contain works by artists like as Klimt, Schiele, Warhol, and Picasso, to name a few.
On the horizon are a number of hotels.
On the hotel front, the five-star Rosewood Vienna, which is expected to open this summer, is one of the planned openings in Vienna. In addition to becoming the fifth Rosewood Hotel in Europe, the 99-room facility will be the first in a German-speaking nation. In a former bank building dating back to 1830, the hotel will offer a rooftop bar with views of the city, a garden restaurant serving European cuisine, and Sense, a Rosewood Spa. The hotel will open in 2019.
The Leo Grand, a 76-room hotel in a heritage-listed structure only a few feet from St. Stephen’s Cathedral, is expected to open its doors later this month. The property pays honor to Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, who ruled from 1658 until his death in 1705, and is located in the heart of the historic district.
Austrian Airlines will begin offering a direct daily from Los Angeles to Vienna beginning in mid-May, further strengthening the link between the West Coast and Austria’s capital. In terms of accessibility,