Ask not, “what our city can do to foster tourism, but what tourism can do for our city?”

Tourist destinations have undergone massive transformations over the last 100 years. Tourism shifted from a sideline, to a profession, and then grew into a highly-regarded, booming sector of the economy. Travel is indeed an achievement of civilisation. As nationalism is starting to rear its head again in some quarters, tourism fosters openness and intercultural exchange.

The Covid-19 outbreak cut deep into our visitor economies but has also shown what the inability to travel really means. The immense pent-up demand we are witnessing demonstrates that we are not willing to give it up.

For us at the Vienna Tourist Board and as destination management and marketing organisations (DMMOs), the pandemic prompted us to think about how we want to (re)shape our visitor economies. It reminded us that the interlinked ecosystem of the visitor economy – specifically in urban destinations – is an integral part of a city’s make-up. The visitor economy can leverage strengths and drive development that benefit people and businesses alike.

The true impact of our visitor economies

The impact generated by the sector goes beyond the more obvious benefits derived through direct spending on aspects like accommodation, entertainment, culture and transportation.

In Vienna, tourism’s economic impact before the pandemic amounted to EUR 5.6 billion annually, with some EUR 4.7 billion remaining in the Capital1Economic Model: Regional TSA (2018) by Statistics Austria & Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO). In income terms, tourism-related demand generated EUR 7.175 billion.

Although “only” accounting for 4.8% of Viennese GDP2Economic Model: Regional TSA (2018) by Statistics Austria & Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO), the visitor economy generates other positive effects, provided it is managed sustainably. It impacts the look and feel of the city through increased diversity (young talent with new ideas, cultural influences and different mindsets…) and vivacity – something sorely missed during the pandemic.

The visitor economy also induces investment like on infrastructure projects, strengthens the city as a business location and generates a variety of jobs throughout the year and at all levels of expertise.

What’s the impact of the visitor economy?

© Vienna Tourist Board Visitor Economy Strategy 2025, shaping Vienna info.

Staff shortages pose threats

In 2018, one-in-nine jobs in Vienna were related to tourism and leisure. As the recovery gathers pace, for destinations it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit the people they so desperately need.

In times when skilled workers are in short supply, our industry should be concerned about improving the general working conditions (levels of pay, flexibility and upskilling). Managing the reputation of tourism-related professions is paramount as well.

As an industry it is down to us to improve its image by better communicating the positive effects that visitor economies have on the destinations and beyond. We need to make sure that we showcase the value of jobs in the sector at an earlier stage of education to assure the quality of tourism-related products in future.

Not everybody’s darling

Development of the tourism industry must be in tune with the city’s needs and not undermine the foundations of its success.

The major question going forward is not “what our city can do to foster tourism, but what tourism can do for our city”.

Possible tensions between vested interests and interests of the destination as a whole must be addressed. These are traits of mass tourism which do not need funding and promotion – they need regulation.

Destinations cannot be everybody’s darling. As a DMMO, we operate with taxpayers’ money, and we have to use it in a way that means the city gets the most out of it. While we do not write the laws, we can still advocate for regulation. This includes the use of public space. Public space is not a theme park, nor should it become a Potemkin village, so we have to take steps to safeguard quality and prevent excessive commercialisation (e.g. preventing street trading, sales kiosks, and transportation such as bicycle taxis or electric scooters from getting out of hand).

We need to foster quality areas where residents and visitors can spend time, move freely and interact with each other in a positive way.

Another example is short-term rentals. We demand transparency and fair play which is also supported by the city government.  The city of Vienna is collaborating with other cities on a European level, particularly Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona, to better regulate the short-term rental market.

It is of utmost importance to listen to stakeholders, visitors and residents alike and strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration.

Creating impactful experiences

Our values form the basis for our marketing activities. We do not own city brands but are their trustees. We seek to create meaningful demand which can strengthen the qualities of our city. In Vienna, we aim to attract visitors that are a good match for the DNA of the destination, who appreciate its (cultural) offerings, and integrate well with the destination and its residents.

Art and culture and the meeting industry will remain the central leitmotif of our marketing activities. By taking this path, we also manage expectations, leading to a more impactful and satisfying experience for our guests and locals alike. This adds value to the quality of life, place and experience for businesses, residents and visitors. And that is exactly what we are aiming for.

Further information:

Read more about OECD work on Tourism and culture.

CEO at Vienna Tourist Board | + posts

Norbert Kettner was born in 1967 and grew up in Tyrol. He has been the Vienna Tourist Board’s Director since September 1, 2007. Prior to this (from September 2003), he was founding managing director of departure wirtschaft, kunst und kultur GmbH, Austria’s first business promotion institution for the creative industries. From August 1993 till August 2003, Norbert Kettner was spokesman for the Executive City Councilor of Finance and Deputy Mayor of Vienna. Until 1999 he worked for him in the Vienna health department, and then moved to the City of Vienna’s finance and economics policy department.

Norbert Kettner is a member of the board of trustees of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF. He is deputy chairman of the supervisory board of Vienna City Marketing Agency and member of the City of Vienna’s Economic Council 2030 as well as member of the board of directors and the presidium of Vienna Business Agency. Kettner is also part of the Tourism and Hospitality Industry Advisory Board of MODUL University Vienna. 2015 Kettner chaired the municipal steering committee of the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna.