Austria’s tourism sector once again plunged into lockdown this week – for the fourth time since the pandemic began.
It is the first country to take this drastic measure, despite the high rates of COVID-19 infection across Europe. Hotels, restaurants, bars and cultural attractions that were forced to close on Monday are unlikely to reopen until December 13 – with only 12 days left until Christmas.
from Traditional Christmas Markets Vienna, to the alpine ski slopes, there are plenty of reasons why tourists flock to Austria during the festive season. The entrepreneurs were undoubtedly hoping that the spirit of Christmas would work some magic on their finances, after two tough years. How are they now?
The luxury hotel is still open for a lucky few
Inside Vienna’s historic Sacher Hotel, Christmas has already arrived. The lobby is beautifully decorated, although there are only a few lucky businessmen to see it.
Someone told owner and general manager Matthias Winkler that he “feels like a king, because he has the whole building to himself”, which is okay, given the hotel’s 152 luxurious rooms.
Although he remains optimistic, Winkler says it was heartening to see an increase in guests coming to Austria – with visits close to 70 per cent of 2019 levels – before his growing confidence was eroded by the lockdown announcement.
However, practice makes perfect, and one thing the Sacher Hotel has learned about previous closures is how to continue serving the world’s famous chocolate cake.
After noticing that McDonald’s was one of the few places open in the city last year, the concierge began selling “Sacher Torte” on a small stand outside the hotel.
“We expected this to result in a great Instagram story but probably nothing more than that,” Winkler says.
“Totally wrong, people liked it.”
This time they are even doing home delivery, with other Viennese specialties like Wiener Schnitzel on the fast food menu. Some of the employees between the ages of 16 and 18 had the idea of making Christmas sweets in the kitchens and selling them to charity.
“You’d be surprised how much Christmas you’re going to find,” Winkler says of the hotel’s interior.
With the New Year also approaching, they hope to host a large number of guests for the famous New Year’s Day concert, performed along the way by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Nobody knows yet if it will go ahead.
A clear signal from the government is needed in the next few days, Winkler says, to stem the wave of cancellations in the city.
Another “disaster” for some companies
Not all companies are optimistic. “There is not much to be said other than that it is a disaster for our industry for the fourth time now,” said one leading Vienna restaurant, whose owners did not want to be named.
There is recognition among others that although the lockdown is a blow to business, it shows that health is an important issue in Austria.
“This closure is epidemiologically necessary,” Vienna Tourism Board Euronews Travel.
Meanwhile, it means a frustrating situation for Vienna as a tourist destination, as efforts have been made throughout the year to prepare for important winter works by taking all necessary measures in accordance with scientific standards.
“This year’s pre-Christmas booking situation has been promising, and recovery trends are clearly visible.
However, the increasing demand in the past months has proven that Vienna’s international appeal has not been cut off. We hope that international travel will be possible again from December 13.”