In the midst of the raging economic crisis, with the tourist industry in Austria experiencing a dramatic drop, the number of Arab visitors to Austria vacation spots remains the same. Even though Middle Eastern tourists are propping up the Austrian economy, not all Austrians are happy with the ethnic shift in the tourist industry.
Our Austrian correspondent ESW has translated an article from the print edition of NEWS magazine, published on August 13, 2009:
The Arabs are coming…
…and are spending a lot of money. Tourists from the Middle East spend more money during their vacation than all the others.
…but many don’t want them. In Zell am See, many restaurant owners are ranting against the Arabs.
Luxury tourists. Large Arab families are on tour in Austria and leave millions in the country. Still, not all of them are popular everywhere.
“Zell am See is prostituting itself,” rants Hermann Mosshammer in a regional magazine. “I want to be able to walk around town five years from now without a muezzin calling to prayer from a church tower.” He owns two cafés in Zell am See and has a problem with the tourists who hail from the Arabian peninsula. The lake, the mountains, the glacier: all wonders of nature in the Pinzgau [a district of Salzburg, an Austrian province] attract holiday makers from Dubai, Qatar, and other places.
Seventeen percent of all summer tourists in Zell am See are from the Arabian gulf. In July and August 2008, approximately 100,000 Arabs visited the city of 9,700 inhabitants, thereby saving the already limping summer tourism numbers. Austria’s capital, Vienna, also profits from this boom: there were a remarkable 137,000 overnight stays [an Austrian euphemism to count tourist stays] from Arab countries in 2008.
But not everyone is excited about the boom. Café owner Mr. Mosshammer is not alone in his opinion. NEWS visited Zell am See and many restaurant owners support what polls have shown: Eighty percent of those polled want to stop all promotional activities in Arab countries. More specifically, it is those in the restaurant and catering business who do not benefit from the Arab boom who do not see the exotic visitors as cash-cows saving their summer business, but who see them as part of a cultural problem.
“All the veiled women in their burqas are changing the appearance of our town. The men treat the waiters and other hotel personnel like second class humans. Many regular guests and visitors from the Netherlands and Germany are being scared off. We need a new and healthier mix of guests,” an agitated restaurant owner, requesting anonymity, tells NEWS.
Millions from the Middle East.
Such polemics are problematic and economically fatal, especially in a year of crisis such as 2009, in which tourism numbers in Austria are expected to dip by 3.5%. It is the Gulf Arab holidaymakers who can save the tourism industry from a total collapse. Sheikhs tend to vacation with a different budget compared to central Europeans. The national average shows that visitors from the Middle East spend at least 30 percent more than all other tourists; they stay at five-star hotels, often with their extended families, and shopping is their favorite activity while vacationing.
There is no crisis mode.
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“There is no crisis in Saudi Arabia and Dubai,” says Klaus Ehrenbrandtner, managing director of Österreich Werbung [Austrian Tourism Agency] in Dubai. There is plenty of money in people’s wallets, as NEWS was able to discern while walking around downtown Vienna. “We have been coming to Austria for many years because people here are so friendly,” says Abdul from Qatar. “This year, my family and I — eighteen people in all — are spending July and August in Austria. We will be spending 850,000 euros.” The rentier and his family will also pay an obligatory visit to Zell am See. He does not yet know of the restaurant and hotel owners’ hostile behavior awaiting them.
Assimilation instead of marginalization.
While the people in Pinzgau are getting heated up about some stores extending their opening hours for their Arab guests, Vienna has adapted to the Middle Eastern guests.
Dieter Fenz, managing director of the Vienna Mariott hotel, has adapted hotel services to the needs of the Arabs. “We now have 24-hour kitchen service, because the Arabs often eat their breakfast at noontime and eat their dinner between one and three a.m. In addition, we have Arabic-speaking personnel working at reception, in the kitchen area and in the coffee shop.”
The managing director of the tourism agency in Zell am See, however, sees an “Arab” problem and presents a solution: “Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, where there is no traveling, start on August 11 next year; in 2012, it starts on August 1. Ninety-five percent of vacationers from the Arab countries will stay home.” One question remains: Who will fill up the empty bed in the luxury hotels.
The region around Zell am See is without doubt one of the most beautiful in all of Austria. It is not only the Gulf Arabs who take advantage of this quaint town’s versatility, particularly in the summer months when temperatures in the Gulf climb to almost 50 degrees (in the shade!). What is so special about Zell am See?
Zell Am See, a winter ski resort, is located in the state of Salzburg, Austria. The city, which is the administrative center of the district of Zell Am See, is one of the Austria’s most important tourist destinations. With a population of around 9,600 inhabitants, Zell Am See is home to a calm and serene atmosphere, ideal to relax and rejuvenate.
It is Zell am See’s geographic location that makes the small city so easy to reach. Located in the literal geographic center of Austria, visitors and holiday-makers can fly into Munich or Salzburg and then drive to Zell am See. On the other hand, one can easily decide for a day trip to Italy to go on a shopping spree. In addition, the historical and cultural city of Salzburg is only a hour’s drive away.
The region Zell am See/Kaprun offers much of what Gulf Arabs who are used to the desert climate want to see and experience: Snow in the summer on the nearby glacier, impressive waterfalls, a fresh-water lake, mountains, but also five-star hotels catering to every need of holiday-needy Kuwaitis, Emiratis, Bahrainis, Saudis and Qataris.
Already back in 1990, when I was interning at the Austrian Embassy in Kuwait, I stamped thousands of visas for huge families and their maids and chauffeurs eager to flee Kuwait. The numbers were not much lower during my tenure in the late 1990’s, despite Austria’s accession to the Schengen regime, which made it mandatory for Bahrainis and Qataris to apply for visas at the nearest Schengen Embassy in their home countries. The destination written on their visa application forms was nearly always: “Sal am Si” in its countless variations.