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Monday,  February 26, 2024 1:36 AM 

“World-beating cultural life”: Vienna Tourist Board CEO Norbert Kettner shares destination updates


“World-beating cultural life”: Vienna Tourist Board CEO Norbert Kettner shares destination updates
Norbert Kettner, CEO of the Vienna Tourist Board. (Vienna Tourist Board)
Pax Global Media

In the heart of Europe, where the Danube River waltzes through, lies Vienna, a place where classical music, coffee houses, schnitzels and strudels converge.

Austria’s capital is a testament to the grandeur of the Habsburg Empire, and today, it’s a hub of entrepreneurship and artistic expression.  

But beneath the surface, Vienna conceals secrets that weave a tapestry of enchantment, captivating visitors from all corners of the globe.

The city was home to some of history’s most influential creators and thinkers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Sigmund Freud, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and many others

Vienna seamlessly blends tradition and modernity. (Vienna Tourist Board)

And with endless palaces, museums, grand residences, upscale hotels and opulent buildings, Vienna seamlessly blends tradition and modernity, creating an atmosphere of luxury and refinement.

In this exclusive Q&A, PAX caught up with Norbert Kettner, CEO of the Vienna Tourist Board, to discuss the city’s latest tourism updates, the Canadian market’s rebound, selling tips for travel advisors, and why Vienna is more than just a port of call.


PAX: What can you say about the Canadian market’s post-COVID rebound in Vienna? 

Norbert Kettner (NK): Canadians are loyal travellers to Vienna and round-trip airlift with five flights weekly with Air Canada from Toronto and three flights weekly with Austrian Airlines from Montreal have played a pivotal role in the Canadian market’s rebound.

Spring and summer were incredibly popular for Canadians looking for European vacations and we have no doubt that fall and winter will be the same. We know that Vienna is a city that offers an abundance of history, exceptional culture and gastronomical experiences unlike anywhere else that will continue to cater to what Canadians are looking for and more. Its ease of access to other European cities, like Budapest, Prague and Munich, makes it the ideal base for a European getaway.

Vienna is known for its palaces, museums, coffeehouses and classical music. (Pax Global Media)

To date, in 2023, we have seen a significant increase from 2022 when we were still in recovery. Compared to 2022 (January-August), and we have seen an 82 per cent increase in Canadian arrivals to Vienna to a total of 38,700, and we expect that number to increase as we head into 2024.

PAX: What booking trends have you seen from Canada lately? 

NK: This year (January – August), we saw an average length of stay of 2.6 days from Canadians, which is above average for all international markets but standard for overseas markets. We see Canadians increasingly book luxury accommodations in Vienna – the share of 5-star bookings has increased from 15.8% in 2019 to 18,9% in 2023 (January – August).

Inside the Hotel Imperial. (Pax Global Media)

PAX: What is the Vienna Tourist Board’s strategy for the rest of 2023 and into 2024?  

NK: As we head into the latter half of 2023 and into 2024, we are rolling out “Heartbeat Streets,” and we are excited to focus on Vienna’s variety of neighbourhoods to diversify the city’s offerings for every type of traveller. We highlight a transformative travel trend, where conscious travellers seek to positively impact the destinations they visit, and at the same time enrich their own experiences. By venturing into less explored areas, our guests actively contribute to the development of the city and its communities.

READ MORE: On Location - Artisans, schnitzel & sparkling chandeliers, a journey through magical Vienna

While Vienna is well-known for the “Innere Stadt” (also referred to as 1st district), as the historic and cultural heartbeat of the city, we look forward to highlighting what Vienna has to offer beyond its historic city center by showcasing eleven different focus neighborhoods. Freihausviertel, for instance, is located in Vienna’s 4th district. Just a stone’s throw from the Naschmarkt, this Grätzel, with its laid-back stores and eateries is a hot-spot for Vienna’s creative scene. Modern galleries on Schleifmühlgasse and trendy shops create a lively combination, and we know many travellers value this type of experience when exploring a new city or experiencing a city again from a different perspective. There is a renaissance of smaller businesses and markets beyond Vienna’s “First district” that we know will excite travellers planning to visit in the next year.

A horse carriage passed through downtown Vienna. (Pax Global Media)

PAX: What is new and exciting in the destination?  

NK: We are approaching the final quarter of the year, a year which the city has dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the World’s Fair in Vienna. With so many new exhibits and attractions, even at some of Vienna’s most iconic venues including the Belvedere Palace and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, we have been excited to share these retrospectives with visitors while also showing how much the city has profited from the 1873 event and how it has evolved since.

Three-quarters of visitors to Vienna come because of its world-beating cultural life. Between the University of Vienna and Karlsplatz alone – an area of not even 1.2km² – visitors have close to 30 museums to choose from. It’s hard to imagine any more art – from the age of antiquity to the present day – packed into such a small space. And we have some exciting news in this so important field! After a major refurb almost four years in the making, the fully remodelled Wien Museum on Karlsplatz is gearing up to reopen to the public in December 2023. The Vienna City Museum was not just extensively renovated, but significantly expanded, too: new highlights include a new “floating” floor, a beautiful public terrace, cafe and much more besides. And: the Wien Museum will create a completely new quality of stay at Karlsplatz.

Enjoying a melange at the Kunsthistorisches Museum cafe. (Pax Global Media)

PAX: What role do Christmas Markets play in Vienna?  

NK: Christmas Markets are not just a tradition in Vienna; they are the heart and soul of our city during the holiday season. The markets, with their centuries-old history, play a vital role in our tourism appeal to international visitors. Vienna's Christmas Markets are more than a place to shop for gifts; they showcase the epitome of Viennese craftsmanship, they provide a stage for local talent, and they highlight the culinary excellence of our local producers. The Christmas Markets provide a unique opportunity for visitors to experience our rich traditions and festivities, which are rooted in belonging and community engagement.

However, when we speak of wintertime in Vienna, I always have to mention ball season, a unique experience that is lesser known than the Christmas Markets but just as atmospheric. In Vienna more than 450 balls take place every year, equating to upwards of 2,000 hours of dancing. The majority of balls happen in January and February, a great time to combine dancing, shopping, museums and coffeehouse culture. 

Norbert Kettner, CEO of the Vienna Tourist Board. (Vienna Tourist Board)

PAX: How has Vienna evolved over the past year? 

NK: The city is in a state of constant growth and evolution. Forecasts indicate that Vienna will surpass the two million inhabitants milestone before the year's end. In the context of a dynamic city striving for sustainability, the most significant strides are being taken in the realms of eco-friendly infrastructure and mobility. These efforts are geared towards ensuring that Vienna remains as smoothly-operating in the future as it does today.

Currently, Vienna boasts a fleet of hundreds of eco-friendly taxis equipped with hybrid or gas propulsion, crisscrossing its streets. Additionally, public transportation options, including the convenient City Airport Train (CAT), facilitate easy access to and from the airport.

Notably, the city is on the verge of inaugurating a brand-new metro line, U5, slated to become Vienna’s maiden fully-automated underground route. It is set to commence operations in 2027.

Furthermore, in recent years, ÖBB (Austrian Railway) has systematically modernized its night train services, presenting an environmentally conscious choice for travellers journeying between major European cities. Vienna now is the best-connected city by rail in Europe and stands as the largest night train hub in the EU, boasting a network of eleven Nightjet connections directly to Vienna. This means passengers can board in cities like Bregenz, Hamburg, Rome, Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich, Basel, Venice, Milan, Berlin, and Paris, and wake up in Vienna – and vice versa.

View of Vienna from the Rosewood's rooftop cocktail bar. (Pax Global Media)

PAX: What are visitors usually surprised to learn about Vienna? 

NK: Beyond its storied history and grandeur, Vienna is rich with hidden gems that never cease to surprise visitors. For example, while the city's classical music heritage is renowned, Vienna also boasts a thriving contemporary arts and music scene, promising a dynamic cultural experience for all tastes. Visitors will also find themselves surrounded by lush green parks, offering a tranquil retreat within the bustling city that often takes visitors by surprise.

The quality of life in Vienna is truly exceptional, as demonstrated by its chart-topping position on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Liveability Index year after year. The quality of life echoes throughout the streets and attractions, and visitors come to Vienna because it’s a city where people want to live. While locals experience this quality of life every day, visitors will be pleasantly surprised to know that they will also reap the benefit of the top-ranking quality of life since the city infrastructure is so thoughtfully entangled with the tourism offering.

Vienna is a green city. (Pax Global Media)

While this is not a surprise to all, some visitors are delighted to experience the Viennese coffeehouse culture, where a cup of coffee becomes an invitation to linger, read, and engage in meaningful conversations. It's a tradition that's as rich as Vienna's history itself. Another pleasant surprise is Vienna’s vineyards which are within arm’s reach – our city is the biggest wine-producing capital city in the world, and visitors can easily access our vineyards to experience this bounty for themselves.

PAX: Many Canadians experience Vienna as part of a river cruise, but the destination is much more than a port of call. Explain why. 

NK: As a capital city, Vienna is anything but just a port of call. While we service the river cruise market, the destination abounds with remarkable experiences and offerings that require a multi-day visit at minimum. We have a truly exquisite and evolving culinary scene, from “Beisl” restaurants to the vineyards within city limits, visitors would be hard-pressed to get the fulsome culinary experience within one or two days, let alone experience the wealth of history and culture. Vienna proudly boasts the highest density of museums in the world, many of which are world-class museums set in stunning architecture worthy of praise in their own rite. 

We have diverse accommodations and neighbourhoods that cater to travellers of all styles and budgets, but more than anything else, Vienna is an extremely welcoming destination where Canadians – themselves a very diverse group – feel embraced and celebrated no matter who they are and this Viennese warmth and embrace is what draws in Canadians to visit for several days, rather than making on stop on a cruise.

The Belvedere. (Pax Global Media)

PAX: What are your top three tips to Canadian travel advisors for selling Vienna?  

NK: Emphasize Vienna's Timeless Charm: Highlight the city's rich history, stunning architecture, and cultural heritage that permeates throughout every district. Vienna is a city where the past seamlessly merges with the present. Travel advisors should encourage their clients to explore both the imperial palaces and historic sites like Schönbrunn Palace or Hofburg Palace and the modern side like MuseumsQuartier and contemporary art galleries. Vienna offers a unique opportunity to step back in time while enjoying all the modern comforts.

A mural of Gustav Klimt in Vienna. (Pax Global Media)

Showcase the Culinary Delights: Vienna is not only a feast for the eyes, but also for the taste buds. Vienna's culinary scene is renowned worldwide, and we are proudly the only cuisine named after the city itself! Advisors need to ensure that their clients are aware of the delectable Viennese cuisine, from schnitzels and strudels to the famous Viennese coffee culture and of course the famed Sacher Torte. We recommend that advisors highlight Vienna’s coffeehouse culture, traditional Heurigen (wine taverns), and fine dining restaurants that travellers can anticipate when planning a trip to Vienna.

Classic schnitzel served at Zum Schwarzen Kameel. (Pax Global Media)

Highlight the Year-Round Appeal: While Vienna is a remarkable destination during the holiday season with its magical Christmas Markets, it is essential to emphasize that the city has something to offer year-round. The world-class music and opera performances, ball season, vibrant street festivals, and beautiful parks and gardens make Vienna an attractive destination throughout the year and adorn different perspectives across the seasons.


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