Tourism – “This is not going to be a crazy season”

Austria’s tourism professionals tremble, but not from the cold. Rather, it is the building up Omikron “wall” that worries the industry. Maximilian Posch, chairman of the Zell am See-Kaprun Tourist Association, one of the leading tourist regions in the Alps, is also closely following the development of the rapidly increasing numbers and is very well informed. Also that this year will be “not a crazy season”, as he says to the “Wiener Zeitung”.

The past winter season 2020/2021 was virtually a total failure for the domestic accommodation providers due to the corona-related closings. From November 2020 to April 2021, only 5.57 million overnight stays were booked – 90.7 percent fewer than in the same period of the previous year. The fact that there were overnight guests at all is due to exceptions. For example, spa stays were allowed and the stay for business reasons was allowed. In the 2019/2020 season, the number of overnight stays fell by 18.1 percent to 59.72 million from mid-March due to the corona-related ban on tourism companies.

Particularly deep
January hole

Maximilian Posch’s family runs the Hotel Tirolerhof in Zell am See. It is currently quite quiet in the 86-bed building. That is not unusual in the “Jänner-Loch” so shortly after the Christmas holidays, but “we are far from normal occupancy,” Posch told the “Wiener Zeitung”. There is great uncertainty among the member companies of the association. The fear of having to close in the winter season due to corona is also great, especially among the bar operators. Posch: “Many live all year round from doing business in winter.”

A huge shock was the announcement of the entry regulations shortly before Christmas, with which Great Britain, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands were declared virus variant areas. Bookings in the Zell am See-Kaprun region then collapsed massively. “We are very international and don’t have that many Germans or Austrians as guests,” said Posch. In the meantime, they have made friends with the Corona rules. “If it stays that way, we can deal with it,” says Posch.

Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger can understand the criticism from the hotel and catering industry that ordinances are being passed too quickly, and understand the call for better planning, as she said in the Apa conversation. However, neither the timing of corona waves nor the occurrence of mutations could be planned. The “Omikron wall could not be foreseen a month ago and therefore could not be planned”.

In normal times, good companies currently have 80 to 90 percent occupancy, “but we’re well below that,” says Martin Stanits, press spokesman for the Austrian Hotel Association (ÖHV). “What we hear is 25 percent. It is very difficult to work economically at the same time.” He assumes that hotels will close again in the next few weeks because the business is not paying off. Or because they want to avoid a wave of infection.

Semester breaks are
well booked

The hopes now rest on the coming semester break in Austria and Germany as well as on the Dutch crocus break. In any case, bookings have already been made. “But there is nothing new,” emphasizes Stanits. Whether the season actually turns out to be something depends largely on the infection rate. Stanits: “We are currently driving on sight. Not from day to day, but from week to week.”

In the meantime, the hotels try to avoid staff losses as much as possible by forming separate teams. But that is not always possible. “The most important thing from our point of view is vaccination,” says Stanits. The vaccination rate for employees is “well over 80 percent”. But he hears from many hotels that almost the entire workforce has been vaccinated. In some cases, incentives are also set through company vaccination premiums.

Tyrolean tourism is basically satisfied with the Christmas holidays, it says on request. With a view to the months of February and March, the industry is cautiously optimistic. What the booking situation looks like will also depend on how the situation develops with regard to the Omikron wave in Austria, but also in the markets of origin. However, there is a difference between the holiday regions and the city hotel industry. The latter recorded significantly greater losses due to the lack of international and business guests.

People are currently booking at extremely short notice, sometimes even on the day of arrival. It is therefore very difficult to make a reliable prediction. “But we are assuming that February can definitely be a good one,” said Tirol Werbung. The fact that the Omikron wave in markets such as the Netherlands and Great Britain, which made up a large proportion of the guests in February, is already subsiding is positive.

Despite the steep rise in the number of infections with the Omikron virus variant, Tourism Minister Köstinger wants to handle the winter season with the 2G rule as well as possible and keep the businesses open. Economic aid, which initially runs until the end of March, remained in place if necessary. “This current system will definitely remain in place and will always be adapted to the situation.” In the hotel and catering industry, 4.2 billion euros have so far been paid out to 37,000 companies, according to Köstinger at Apa

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