Although there is no date yet for when Canadian travellers can visit Austria again, the destination is currently experiencing the re-start of travel and tourism as its borders with neighbouring countries are re-opening across hotels, restaurants and attractions.
“Our social, civic, as well as cultural life is returning fully,” Michael Gigl, Director for the Austrian Tourist Office in North America tells Travel Courier. “Travel truly has the power to build bridges between people, between cultures. We have suddenly, and painfully, learned that the opportunity to travel, especially internationally, is of tremendous value that shouldn’t be taken for granted. And we have just witnessed the tremendous global job losses, and economic suffering that happens when travel stops. But it is also becoming ever more obvious that travel is only sustainable when done responsibly.”
While there are many reasons to visit Austria, he says the destination wants to make sure travellers feel confident and secure about their decision to visit.
Michael Gigl, Director, North America, Austrian Tourist Office
“Austria is providing an additional layer of safety and security for our guests, as the Austrian government is providing extensive and regular COVID-19 testing to staff of the hospitality industry, at government expense,” he says. “The goal is to regularly test up to 65,000 hospitality staff, with a focus on those that provide direct service and interaction with our guests. This ambitious program is currently being phased in, and should be running fully by July.”
Looking forward, he says the destination feels that travel advisors will play an important role in the return of international, especially for the long-haul market.
“Their deep inside knowledge of a destination, and personal connections will come a long way in allowing their clients to make fully informed travel decisions, and possibly alleviate any lingering uncertainties,” he states. “We, at the Austrian Tourist Office, are here to assist, and offer a variety of educational and information tools.”
He also expects a wave of innovation in tour design, especially for individuals and small group travel, and is eager to work with industry leading tour operators and tour designers to make it happen.
“The COVID-19 epidemic is also providing us with an opportunity to reflect on what really matters to us when we travel,” he notes. “I believe that travel is most enjoyable when it provides a deeper connection with the places visited, and I trust that travellers will seek out ever more meaningful forms of travel, trips that provide true insights into the places and cultures visited. Those tour operators and travel suppliers that make those meaningful experiences possible will come out far ahead in the future.”
For Gigl, one of the things that sets Austria apart is the fact that it has always been home grown, supporting local communities.
“The vast majority of our hotels and pensions are family owned and operated,” he says. “Our most visited attractions are either a legacy of our over 1000 year history, or the result of local planning and ingenuity. Development decisions remain in the hands of local communities, and not faceless private equity funds. We are proud of our leading role in sustainable and organic agriculture. And our capital Vienna has consistently been judged as one of the best places in the world to live. And just weeks ago Vienna was crowned the greenest city in the world by the Canadian consulting firm Resonance.”
As destinations and travel providers, he believes those in the industry have responsibilities to communities and travellers alike.
“Austria takes those responsibilities very much at heart and strives to offer a tremendously enjoyable, meaningful and safe travel experience, for the benefit of all,” he says. “Austria has a tremendous variety of experiences to offer. Lonely Planet calls Austria ‘famously beautiful,’ and you can experience this beauty in its imperial cities, its stunning art, architecture and music, as well as the spectacular, and so easily accessible landscape, mountains, lakes and rivers. Nowhere else can you find world-class culture and nature experiences available so close together.”
Photo courtesy Austrian Tourist Office / Kara Mercer