Buoyant market to Austria from ME set to continue

Shopping In Vienna

KLAUS EHRENBRANDTNER, director Middle East, Austrian National Tourist Office spoke to Shalu Chandran as TTN wraps up its annual feature on tourism board offerings

What are the tourist arrival figures you have witnessed year to date?
Austria has been among the top 10 tourist destinations worldwide and will definitely also be in 2008. From January to August we had 23.7 million arrivals and 97.1 million overnights, which is an increase of 4.4 per cent in that period in comparison to last year. We are expecting to hit 125 million overnights for the whole year in 2008.

How much does the Middle East contribute to that?
The Middle East has been the fastest growing market in the last few years. In comparison to the year 2003 we have an increase in overnights from the Middle East of +160 per cent within five years. For the summer season 2008 more than 250,000 overnights came out of the Middle East in July and August alone, meaning a rise of 10 per cent over 2007. This plus is expected to hold for the rest of the year and add up to 360,000 overnights in the year 2008.

Who are your top visitor markets from the Middle East?
The top visitors are locals from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait. They are also the biggest spenders of all our international guests, travelling mainly in summer. In wintertime we try to reach the expatriate community with our campaigns for wintersport or young city life.

How much does the Middle East contribute to the country’s tourism growth strategy?
It does a lot. The Middle East is now the third biggest overseas market after the US and Japan. Austria’s key markets like Germany, the Netherlands or the UK produce much more overnights, of course. But the increase there will hardly reach more than two - three per cent a year, whereas here we calculate with an increase of 10 per cent minimum in the next years.

Has there been a drop in tourist arrivals and spend with the worldwide recession?
Not so far, but we do expect that there will be a drop in worldwide tourism and competition will become tougher. We are well equipped for that situation. However, I think the Middle East market will not be affected so much as the main season is still seven months ahead and the situation will stabilise until then.

Has there been a change in travel trends from the Middle East?
Yes. Five years ago there were hardly any tourists coming outside the main summer season, yet now more people want to go in March or in wintertime. Austria has always been an all-year-round destination, with equal numbers of visitors in summer and winter. New destinations such as Carinthia and the Gastein valley have become popular. However, the biggest increase is noted in the province Tirol with destinations like Innsbruck, Kitzbühel and Seefeld. Tirol will definitely have an increase of more than 50 per cent in guests coming from the Middle East this year!

How are you promoting Austria as a high end destination for the luxury traveller? First of all we train the travel trade with our new agents learning program ACTS – Austrian Certified Travel Specialist. Only initiated six months ago, we have already 200 graduates. The best of the graduates we invite on a fam trip to Austria. This programme has become very popular as it offers a lot of benefits both to the agent and to the company.

What are the products you have on offer for these travellers?
Our winter products - Austria is known as a wintersport destination with many exclusive upmarket resorts like Kitzbühel, Seefeld or the Arlberg region (St Anton, Lech and Zürs). People know now that there is much more to do and experience than just skiing and snowboarding, including ballooning and winter walking. Some luxury travellers also choose to visit the Austrian cities of Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck during wintertime, especially during December for its Christmas markets and high end shopping.

What can travellers look forward to in 2009?
First of all, there a lot of new direct flights to Vienna. Austrian Airlines has just increased the frequency from Dubai to Vienna from seven to 13 times a week. They also just started their direct flights from Jeddah (four times a week) and Riyadh (three times a week). With 20 direct flights a week from Dubai, three from Abu Dhabi, five from Riyadh, six from Jeddah to Vienna alone, Austria now is even easier to reach within six hours. Munich, as the most important hub to Western provinces like Salzburg or Tirol, is well connected all over the GCC.