Vienna’s Strategy: Looking Towards 2015
A new tourism campaign launched by Wien Tourismus hopes to rebrand the city for the young with the slogan “Now or Never”
Down a side street off Gumpendorferstrasse in the hip 6th District, in the sort of elegantly faded structure Vienna seems to specialize in (and which developers in London or New York can only dream of), I enter a huge hall with swish music and 600 of Vienna’s beautiful people. It’s late October and the smart suits have turned out in force to hear the future marketing strategy for Vienna up to 2015.
How Vienna is marketed matters to all of us, not just because we’d all prefer to avoid the seamier side of mass tourism – with its budget airline gangs drinking to excess, shouting at locals, effectively oblivious to country or culture – it’s also that most of us feel proud of our adopted city and hope this is reflected in the spirit of its international profile.
It also matters to the city’s economy. As foreigners, most of us move around the continent quite a lot and are in touch with people elsewhere in the world, to whom we recommend Vienna as a destination. So when ads give out the Mozartkugeln image of Vienna, it’s hard to make the case for being hip.
Barbara Rett, our host for the day, is a presenter on ORF and a famous face. That is, for the locals. For me, there was no buzz; that’s what happens when you just got here and a celebrity is just another face. She was good, though, asking pointed, uncomfortable questions, getting to the heart of what works and what doesn’t in Vienna.
One face I did recognise: Gery Keszler, organiser of the legendary Life Ball.
Vienna of course has much going for it as a short-break destination, with good-looking people, warm summers, snowy winter, spectacular architecture, good public transport, dense history, affordable and tasty food and wine, green spaces, coffeehouses, balls, lots of great art, an evocative soundtrack and a name that resonates aesthetics and pleasure around the world.
The Director of Wien Tourismus, Norbert Kettner, presents a robust, confident presence onstage, a safe pair of hands in a rather tight grey suit and shaved head. There was some dry business talk to kick things off, more formal than an equivalent event in the English-speaking world. Business is down, of course, though in Vienna the number of visitors has dropped by only 5% to 9.5 million this year, compared to an 8% fall across the continent. Consequently there have been fewer business casualties (except Austrian Airlines, of course) than in much of Europe.
Many sensitive issues were discussed and this seemed more a day for Vienna to talk to itself about its problems than a face-saving public press conference.
Which made it all the more interesting. Access to downtown from the airport was considered a problem, the city’s taxi drivers judged to lack the charisma of London cabbies, nightlife considered a bit flat and the limits on shopping hours a source of constant irritation to tourists.
The theme of the day was how Vienna might be different by 2015, and there was optimism that things were getting better and many of the above concerns improved by then. The waterfront will be a new focus for next year, partly to take some tourists away from the crowded 1st District. And the city’s tourism authorities want more attention to Vienna’s contemporary architecture, which tends to be out of the centre and a chance to relieve pressure downtown.
Anyone who travels will have seen those strange television ads on CNN or BBC World marketing faraway places that get the tone all wrong, usually with a rousing chorus singing the praises of this (usually east Asian) destination and a silly, clunky tagline as a sign-off.
Here we have "Vienna waits for you": not the catchiest of phrases in English, it highlights for those of us who venture across linguistic frontiers the perils of taking words from one language directly to another, without reference to nuance and local patterns of speech.
The fashion these days is to market your city to younger people through social media, but those who put the words "Vienna tourism" into YouTube will find some ropey, cheap films, not really worthy of watching.
Research has concluded that people view Vienna as a once-in-a-lifetime destination, but that they put off visiting in favour of more hip places like Madrid, Copenhagen or Prague, assuming that this city won’t really have changed if they come here in 10 years. Vienna has traditionally been marketed in a rather old-fashioned way, appealing to older visitors. You can view some of these adverts on the www.wien.info site.
Now they’ve developed the slogan: "Vienna: Now or Never," about the particular experience of being here right now and how it feels. This revised strategy will be part of a major international campaign.
It was clear the locals approved of these measures – spontaneous applause erupted from the reserved crowd. The point was that people should look afresh at Vienna, at its creativity and its contemporary style.
An in-depth interview with head of Wien Tourismus, Norbert Kettner, is coming soon in TheVienna Review