INNSBRUCK, Austria -- The mood at the 24th annual Austrian Travel
Business fair here was celebratory, as the country marked an
increase of 1 million international arrivals in 1998 -- including a
15.7% surge in Americans -- following six years of declining
The boost in American arrivals makes the U.S. the second-most
important international market for Vienna, Austria's capital. The
German market takes the No. 1 spot. Total arrivals for 1998 were
24.9 million, a 4.2% increase compared with 1997. Last year,
669,000 Americans traveled to Austria, representing the largest
improvement since the Persian Gulf war recovery in 1992.
U.S. tour operators and agents attending the ATB reported record
growth in their business to Austria. They attributed the growth to
a host of factors such as the robust U.S. economy and a rise in the
greenback's exchange rate from 8.5 schillings in 1996 to 11.5
Brenda James, executive vice president of Los Angeles-based Ski
Connections, which reported a 25% increase in business to Austria
last year, said the country provided the best value for European
ski vacations. "Thirteen years ago, we sold a one-week trip to
Innsbruck for $1,000 with air, transfers, accommodations and two
meals daily; we're still offering it at this price," she said.
Austria's marketing practices were singled out by delegates as a
force behind the visitor momentum. Patricia Sullivan Dimino, owner
of Patrician Journeys in Livingston, N.J., credited much of her
success with Austria to her participation in the Austrian Certified
Travel Specialist program run by the Austrian National Tourist
Office. The program launched an agent-referral service two years
ago and now, Dimino said, she gets a few client referrals each day.
"This helps because Austria's advertising has not been as intense
as its neighbors, like Switzerland and Germany," she said.
Austria's relationships with its neighbors has boosted the
music-oriented tours of Werner Schwager, president of Travel
Planner International in Arlington Heights, Ill. "Interest in
Austria is on the rise, but it is still superceded by the newer
destinations of Prague and Berlin. Our best sellers are opera tours
that feature Budapest, Prague and Vienna," he said, citing a trend
that could be spotted in the dozens of U.S. tour brochures on
display here, many of which package the three cities together.
U.S. tour offerings to Austria are up by 20% this year,
according to the Austrian tourist office in New York. Many of the
new entries will highlight this year's promotional theme, a tribute
to composer Johann Strauss.
Michal Barzsap, president of ITS Tours in College Station,
Texas, said the past five years have brought him a 60% to 70%
increase in tour business to Austria. "Americans are beginning to
be interested in the lesser-known towns and cities such as Linz and
Klagenfurt; our business shows they want something more than the
famous capitals of Europe," he said.
Austria's changing reputation on the international political
scene also was on the minds of some delegates. Sandy Cutrone, owner
of European Connection in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., said she lost
business in the late 1980s and early 1990s from a key sector, the
After the election of Kurt Waldheim, who served as Austria's
president from 1986 to 1992 and was accused of having ties to the
Nazi party during World War II, Cutrone said many of her clients
"wouldn't touch the country." "Now, [Jewish clients] are coming
back," she said.