Tourism is an important driver of the Austrian economy. In 2019, tourism directly contributed EUR 22 billion to the Austrian economy, equating to 5.6% of GDP, according to the Austrian Tourism Satellite Account. This resulted in 205 700 full-time equivalent jobs directly attributed to tourism, contributing to 5.2% of total employment in Austria. Travel exports represented 30% of total service exports in 2019.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the direct contribution of tourism to the economy fall to 3.5% of both GDP and employment. The pandemic resulted in a significant decline in tourists. In 2020, there were 15.1 million international arrivals, down 53% compared to 2019, which declined an additional 15.7% in 2021. This decline in international tourists had a significant impact on international travel receipts, which remained 56.3% below 2019 levels in 2021, at EUR 10.1 billion.

The Austrian tourism sector has traditionally been international-dominant, with international tourists accounting for almost three-quarters of nights prior to the pandemic. In 2021, domestic tourists were 34.2% below pre-pandemic levels, with 9.4 million tourists recorded, but their share of nights increased to 37%.

While in January 2022 overnight stays were still 32.6% behind figures of the same month in 2019, the tourism sector has recovered well throughout the year with 112.8 million overnights recorded between January and September (down 11 % compared to 2019), in particular due to a strong summer season (May-September, down 1.4% to 2019). The outlook for the winter season 2022/2023 is considered widely positive.

According to the Austrian Federal Constitution, the nine federal provinces (Länder) have legislative and executive responsibility for tourism affairs. However, as tourism is a cross-cutting sector, federal and European laws apply.

At the national level, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Economy (the State Secretary for Tourism) is responsible for tourism policy. A Parliamentary Committee for Tourism within the Austrian Parliament oversees policy. Synergies between the national and regional levels continue to be strengthened via a Steering Group for Tourism. Co-operation with other ministries, departments, institutions and the tourism sector is organised on specific topics either via permanent groups or round tables (e.g. communication, sustainable mobility, visas, tourism ethics, cycle tourism) or on a case-by-case basis (e.g. new funding schemes, new legislation affecting tourism).

The Austrian National Tourist Office (ANTO) is the national tourism marketing organisation. ANTO is responsible for market research, brand management, marketing, tourism networking and information provision. The Ministry and the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber jointly fund ANTO. It co-operates closely with the Austrian tourism trade (e.g. Länder tourist boards, destinations, tourism businesses).

In 2021, the national tourism administration had a total budget of EUR 57.3 million. Of this, EUR 28.4 million was dedicated to financial support for SMEs, administered by the Austrian Bank for Tourism Development, a specialised bank acting in a public-private partnership. ANTO received over EUR 24 million for their annual budget (whereas in 2020, ANTO received an additional EUR 40 million for specific marketing measures to support the recovery). The Ministry disbursed EUR 5 million through individual subsidies for co-financed tourism projects and service contracts.

SMEs in the tourism sector received EUR 70 million from the European Recovery Programme for loans. In addition to the national budget, all nine Länder have their own tourism budgets to support their specific tourism development programmes.

In order to support tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, the national tourism administration spent EUR 201 million on direct grants and provided guarantees on loans (cap: EUR 1.6 billion). In addition to above mentioned sector-specific measures, undertakings in tourism were eligible for most horizontal measures (including mainly direct grants) administered by the Ministry of Finance.

Austria’s national tourism strategy Plan T - Masterplan for Tourism continues to be the base of national tourism policy. However, there are a number of updates in key focus areas for the medium and long term across the demand, supply and governance of tourism, and a maintained focus on quality rather than on quantity, as well as consumer safety and security.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Austria implemented comprehensive public support to help the tourism sector survive, through both whole-of-economy and sector-specific measures. Targeted support was necessary, especially for accommodation, hospitality and travel organisation industries, including:

  • Free and comprehensive COVID-19 testing in 2020-22 for the tourism workforce and guests, reinforcing trust and confidence in Austria as a safe tourism destination (see box below).

  • Tax relief package, including the reduction of VAT to 5% on accommodation and food (previously 10%) as well as drinks (previously 20%) for the period 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2021.

  • Investment bonuses consisting of grants of 7% of the investment value as an incentive for enterprises to invest in their business and strengthen their competitiveness. Grants were doubled for investments in greening, digitalisation or health (total volume of EUR 7.8 billion).

  • Guarantees of up to 100% for bridging loans used to cover temporary liquidity shortages caused by decreases in turnover due to COVID-19 (until the end of 2021) and grants to cover fixed costs and losses for enterprises affected by closures (until September 2021).

  • Support for event organisers with financial compensation in case the event is cancelled or restricted due to COVID-19 (March 2021 - December 2022); total volume of EUR 300 million (administered by the Austrian Bank for Tourism Development). Maximum support per event organiser amounts to EUR 10 million.

  • Support for package travel organisers where the Austrian Bank for Tourism Development guaranteed down payments by travellers in case of insolvency of the package travel organiser in 2021-22 (total package limit of EUR 300 million).

  • Support for private accommodation landlords and farms that offer accommodation services through “Agrarmarkt Austria GmbH” - which ended in March 2022.

In the longer term, enterprises need continued support with new financing arrangements, particularly given many businesses’ difficult liquidity and equity positions, while also addressing labour force shortages and skills requirements. In addition, a stronger focus is put on the green and digital transition in tourism and the development of regions and cities. In 2022, Austria created a new ecolabel for tourism destinations to accelerate the green transition, improve regional value chains and respond to the increased demand for sustainable holidays (see Box 3.7).

Strong governance, co-ordination and information are key for the tourism sector in Austria, with co-ordination between tourism and regional policy to strengthen local and regional value chains a necessity.

Changes in consumer trends present new challenges and opportunities. The recent strategic reorientation of the Austrian National Tourist Office (ÖW2026) will facilitate addressing promising markets with enhanced communication, co-operation and innovation.

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