An interview with Mario Gerber, Austrian tourism expert.

Resch: What are your main concerns in tourism?

Gerber: The tourism industry is facing many different issues, ranging from a shortage of specialists to climate change. The pandemic and open questions still dominate our business. For example, how will we start the winter season? What will new viral mutations look like? Naturally, we keep a close eye on developments, not only in Austria but in the home countries
of our guests.
 
In Austria, we operate with high hygiene and safety standards. In Tyrol, we developed the app SAFE SERVICE® during the pandemic. The app digitally supports our tourism businesses, providing them with the latest safety rules at a glance. At the same time, SAFE SERVICE® is a communication tool that enables us to show our guests that we have positioned ourselves as a responsible host

Resch: Did Corona also affect tourism in a positive way?

Gerber: As far as I am concerned, the pandemic is the biggest crisis that tourism had to tackle. Airlines, travel agencies, the accommodation and the gastronomy sector were all hit hard. The crisis did, however, boost domestic tourism. Last year, we focussed even more on our domestic guests, although this market has always been important to us. Our guests realised just how great it is to spend a holiday at home.

Resch: Do you feel an increasing trend in the use of public transport, such as trains and busses, or even a change from traditional means of transport towards more sustain­ able alternatives?

Gerber: We live in an affluent society where many families own two cars and consider it less comfortable
to travel by bus or train. There is, however, a growing potential and we are challenged to making this type of travel for our guests more attractive. The carbon footprint – especially in our tourism sector, where guests can use their own car – is pretty good. Having said that, our goal is to make train journeys more comfortable. It is the last kilometre that counts. This requires a changing mindset which I believe will also take place in our neighbouring countries.
 
Austria is a country that is strongly driven by tourism. It also needs guests from abroad – even though air travel was slightly exaggerated before Corona. People want to spend their holidays abroad. Therefore, they take a plane. Airlines have already implemented numerous measures to reduce their carbon footprint. One should be careful to separate myths from real facts when it comes to fuel consumption and emissions. A lot has been done in aviation in the past few years to reduce the fuel consumption per person. That is often lower than a journey by car.

Resch: Looking at sustainability and regionality: Do guests already take it for granted that the gastronomy sector offers them local products and vegan/vegetarian dishes as well as plastic­-free packaging?

Gerber: Regionality is an important issue, especially the collaboration with local farmers. In Tyrol, we all benefit from the excellent relationship between tourism and agriculture. Yet, there is a lot that we cannot produce for everyone. Having said that, this relationship extends beyond just products. It is about maintaining our local agriculture, nature, and so on. I greatly believe in promoting regionality, but it would be wrong to dictate it. It is always the guest who decides what he or she wants.

Resch: Generation Z wants to tell a story after a holiday. Tourism must be a memorable experience. How do you deal with storytelling?

Gerber: Creating an experience is very important. I believe that story- telling results from experience – and this can have many different facets: It can be a great gourmet menu, a trip to a ski lodge, followed by a fondue at 2,400m above sea level, swimming in a rooftop pool with a surrounding view of the mountains, embarking on a tour at sunrise or soaking up culture. When guests enjoy such experiences while on holiday, storytelling follows automatically. This is excellent advertising for the destination. We are also experimenting with influencers, but it is quite difficult to determine which influencer is best suited to the individual tourism business – for example fitness coaches or well-known athletes.

Resch: How will climate change affect skiing slopes or tourists’ skiing behaviour? We are faced with having to increasingly use snow cannons to produce artificial snow, yet they cannot be used in all skiing resorts.

Gerber:
Winter Wonderland is the buzzword that comes to mind. Guests just want to experience snow. Therefore, we must ask ourselves: What else can still be done, and which new technologies are available? It will be more difficult for low-lying skiing resorts. Despite climate change, guests will not want to give up skiing. Looking towards the future, the question will rather be: Will there still be enough and adequate opportunities for skiing? If they disappear, there will also be less skiers.


Resch: Will summer tourism play an increasingly important role in Tyrol and in Austria?

Gerber: Yes, I believe so. We are still blessed with stretches of unspoilt nature and wonderful landscapes, which we market quite successfully. In this sense, climate change offers new possibilities for tourism in the alps. Our tourism numbers are growing steadily, and, in some regions, we register more guests in summer than in winter. Tyrol is well-positioned for summer tourism and authentic holidays.

Resch: Finding staff versus skills shortages. Do you expect that the number of working days will be reduced to five days in the accommodation and gastronomy sector?

Gerber: Yes, the lack of specialists and skills shortages we face is an issue even after Corona. I believe that we are selling ourselves short in tourism. The services we provide start with a warm welcome and end with the Wiener Schnitzel. Staff costs put businesses under a lot of pressure. Tourism offers great jobs with many different facets. The working hours are a huge challenge though. We must therefore increase
the wages we pay. To be able to do that, we must increase the price of the services we provide. This means that if we pay better wages and communicate the pros of working in tourism – free food and board, flexible working hours – we should be able to motivate more people to join us.

Mario Gerber

Tourism expert and hotel owner Gerberhotels

Reinhold Resch

Practice Leader Tourism GrECo Austria

T+43 664 96 23 905

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