NEW YORK -- The entry into Austria's governing coalition of Joerg
Haider's Freedom Party, a right-wing, anti-immigration group led by
a man who has made comments sympathetic to those who served the
Third Reich, evoked concern among some sellers of travel to
Doris Clark, president of Smolka Tours in Tinton Falls, N.J.,
said, "The media fuss over Haider will affect travel to Austria
because it has been proven by past travel patterns that people
believe what they read in the newspaper, and even local papers are
running articles about this."
The 15-country European Union took the unprecedented step of
downgrading diplomatic ties with Austria, a union member, except on
the technical level, based on the alliance of the Freedom Party
with the People's Party, a center-right group, to form the
two-party coalition that now runs Austria. This will not affect
current travel arrangements among E.U. states.
The coalition was formed after fall elections as part of the
standard Austrian parliamentary procedure that allows parties to
unite when they lack sufficient voter support to form a government
on their own.
The People's Party leaders were unable to form an alliance with
its longtime traditional partner, the Social Democrats, a
Haider, who is the head of the Freedom Party, remains governor
of Austria's Carinthia region and will have no appointed role in
the new government.
In announcing its position, the E.U. cited Haider's history of
anti-immigration policy, made as Austria struggles to integrate a
flood of immigrants from eastern Europe, as well as his statements
praising Hitler's labor policies and Austrians who fought for
Hitler. Haider later apologized for those remarks. The U.S.,
meanwhile, withdrew its ambassador from Austria for
Austria travel specialists in the U.S. reacted with dismay to
the media publicity on Haider, but operators who sell a varied
number of Europe tours were not alarmed.
"If the American government says it is going to cool its
relationship with Austria, I am sure that at least two-thirds of
the Americans who might have traveled there will reconsider their
plans," said Smolka Tours' Clark, a Vienna native who specializes
in trips to Europe's alpine regions.
Two large wholesalers of escorted tours to Europe had a
different response: Maureen Van Metter, vice president of marketing
for Trafalgar Tours here, and Nigel Osborne, president of Insight
in Boston, said they did not expect the political events in Europe
to have any impact on their business.
Both companies feature Austria in a few tours that are part of
an extensive roster of Europe vacations. "Our advance bookings on
all of our escorted tours that include Austria are very strong,"
Van Metter said.
Meanwhile, Patricia Dimino, owner of Livingston, N.J.-based
Patrician Journeys, a retailer and wholesaler that focuses on
Austria, said the Freedom Party's new role in Austria's government
would impact her business.
"First, this is going to hurt Jewish tourism, and potentially
tours to the Danube and those that include Austria. I think some
people considering Austria will opt instead for Germany and
Switzerland, which have similar attractions," she said.
Phil Scheidt, president of the active travel firm Wanderweg
Holidays in Cherry Hill, N.J., saw things differently.
"Austria is outselling Switzerland for us; I don't think you'll
see a boycott because the country has just too much to offer for
vacationers," said Scheidt.
He said his clients would be more concerned about safety issues
in developing countries than politics in western Europe.
Said Eduard Schmiege, director of Journeys of Discovery in San
Diego: "The mass market may not be affected by a situation like
this, but we handle university alumni who are well educated and
might be influenced by political activities abroad."
Austrian Airlines president Franz Zochbauer, based in New York,
echoed Schmiege's worries. "Incentive groups might choose another
destination [over] Austria if they have a choice -- one doesn't
have to be Einstein to figure that out."
The Austrian Tourist Office here said it was instructed to not
comment on the possible repercussions of Haider's recent political
Austria accounted for slightly more than 4% of all U.S. traffic
to Europe last year.