August 18, 2020 – A look at how Austria, one of the tourist champions of Europe, has tried saving their season by hurting Croatian tourism.
Saving the tourist season threatened by the coronavirus pandemic is not only a priority for Croatia this year, but also for other European countries whose tourism revenues have a significant share in GDP.
Index.hr reports that one of them is undoubtedly Austria, a country without a sea, which is one of the tourist champions of Europe in terms of earnings and in which tourism revenues make up about 15 percent of the GDP. Furthermore, 13 percent of employed Austrians work in the tourism sector, so saving the tourist season is also a matter of saving jobs.
Back in May, Kurz declared Austria the safest country for tourists
Authorities in Vienna have not hidden at all since the first corona lockdown lifted and said they would do everything they could to save the Austrian tourist season.
Thus, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz promised at a press conference in Vienna in late May that a holiday in Austria, despite the coronavirus, would be as safe as in any other country in the world. He explained that he would invest in testing and test as many people as possible who are in contact with travelers.
“I am glad that we will provide both domestic and foreign guests with a safe and beautiful holiday,” Kurz said in May.
Austrian campaign: “Like Croatia, only without sea urchins”
Austria not only wanted to attract foreign tourists this summer but also keep Austrians in the country, as tourism minister Elisabeth Köstinger has repeatedly stressed. She invited Austrians to spend their summers in their homeland, and the Austrian delay in opening the borders when the time came was significant. There was even an advertising campaign inviting Austrians to spend their holidays in Austria, with posters that read, for example, “Like Croatia, only without sea urchins. Spend your summer vacation at home.”
The ruling party’s campaign spilled over to the Austrian media, so the Austrian tabloid Heute published the news of the fecal spill into the Croatian sea at the beginning of June, calling it “Disgusting”. The goal was obviously to disgust Austrians with the idea of vacationing in Croatia, but there was only one problem – the news was a year old, and Heute presented it as current.
Already in early June, Slovenia publicly protested against Austrian behavior, and its Minister of the Interior, Aleš Hojs, stated that he had the impression that Austria wanted to keep its citizens vacationing inside the country.
Quick decision to put Croatia on the list of high-risk countries
After everything that has happened in the meantime, it can be said that this impression is not deceiving at all.
After an increase in coronavirus infections was recorded in Croatia, Austria hastily decided to prevent its citizens from traveling on holidays in the Adriatic.
How that decision was made is also significant. In the morning, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober from the Greens refused to say at a press conference whether stricter measures would be taken against Croatia, proposing that the decision be made in agreement with neighboring countries. Schallenberg, close to Kurz, sent a press release about putting Croatia on the list of unsafe destinations. The decision within the Austrian government has done nothing to establish health security, but it has created traffic jams as panicked Austrian tourists have started returning en masse from the Adriatic to Austria.
There is no doubt that the epidemiological situation in Croatia worsened last week, but did it really worsen enough to require drastic Austrian measures?
The goal is to deter Austrians from coming to Croatia
From today, returnees from Croatia will also have to present a negative coronavirus test, which forced many Austrians to return home on Sunday and avoid the testing they have to pay out of pocket. In contrast, others were deterred from the very idea of vacationing in Croatia.
“There is a huge influx of viruses from Croatia,” Kurz said on Saturday, adding that the increase is not surprising given that the holidays are underway.
“The current numbers are worrying,” says Kurz. “We must do everything we can to stop the virus without introducing new comprehensive bans.”
While Austria puts Croatia on the red list, Israel has lifted the obligatory quarantine for travelers from Croatia
Nearly 230 new infections were recorded in Austria on Saturday, compared to a record 282 the day before. If other EU members were guided by Austrian logic, it could easily end up on the list of countries to which travel is not recommended.
At about the same time as Kurz speculated about a “huge influx of viruses from Croatia,” Israel lifted mandatory quarantine upon arrival at Tel Aviv airport for its citizens returning from 20 “green” countries, including Croatia, as well as for citizens of those countries, which was published on the website of the Israeli government.
The list of those countries, which Israeli authorities consider low-risk countries in terms of coronavirus spread, includes 15 European countries – Croatia, Austria, Italy, Germany, Hungary and Slovenia, as well as five other countries, including Canada and New Zealand. The list excludes, for example, France and the United States.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel imposed mandatory 14-day self-isolation for every person entering Israeli territory and pursued a very strict epidemiological policy, but now considers both Croatia and Austria safe countries, while Austria treats Croatia as the corona’s worst.
The lukewarm reaction of Foreign Minister Grlic Radman
Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman predictably took a conciliatory tone towards Austria. On Friday, he stated that Austria would consider changing the decision by which it warned its citizens not to travel to Croatia due to the possibility of coronavirus infection, and that he had already heard about it twice with his Austrian counterpart Schallenberg.
“We report daily on the situation in Croatia, so on a daily basis, it is submitted to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. When it comes to the number of infected, it is generally more prominent in the east than in the Adriatic regions, so we reported the Austrian side,” the minister told reporters in Baska Voda.
“The Austrians will now consider reversing their decision,” Grlic Radman announced on Friday, but the announced decision came into force on Sunday at midnight, and so far, there are no signals from Vienna about a possible change of attitude.
Die Presse: The end of summer holidays in Croatia
Austrian newspaper Die Presse clearly stated on Friday evening what the Austrian authorities’ decision meant when they declared Croatia a country where one should not travel and introduced mandatory tests for those returning from Croatia. “End of summer vacation in Croatia”, reads the title of the article, which summarizes the consequences of the Austrian authorities’ decision.
Austrian selfishness within the European Union is actually nothing new, but one of the frequent features of Austrian European politics, especially since the key figure in it is the popular and young Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Austria was also recently among the fiercest opponents of European Union aid to the member states most affected by the pandemic, resulting in a marathon summit in Brussels at which the proposed grant amounts were significantly reduced or converted into loans.
Remember how Austria spread the coronavirus all over Europe?
After all, even at the very beginning of the pandemic, it turned out that in Austria, many think first of their own benefit and then of the common good. Recall, the popular Austrian ski resort Ischgl became one of the largest foci of the coronavirus, which spread from Ischgl throughout Europe, from Scandinavia to Croatia.
“Tourists from all over Europe became infected with the virus in bars in an Austrian ski resort in the Paznaun valley in Tyrol, but despite growing evidence of what was happening, everything remained open until recently,” the German newspaper Der Spiegel wrote in mid-March.
The Vienna-based Der Standard described the behavior of the Tyrolean authorities and the tourism industry at the beginning of the pandemic as “Greed and ruin in Tyrol”, stating that the cable cars and ski lifts in the Paznaun Valley remained working even in quarantined parts. The goal was to extract the last euros from the tourists present, although it was known that the infection was spreading.
Meanwhile, the whole affair was being investigated by the police, and Ischgl reopened to tourists at the end of April, this time, as Chancellor Kurz said, as a place where tourists can be as safe as anywhere else in the world.
The increase in the number of infected in Croatia is an occasion for Austria to realize its plans
In any case, since the end of May, it has been clear that Austria has not looked favorably on their tourists spending holidays in Croatia, as it is the closest and most desirable destination. Months later, they have shown that some dubious moves are being made to achieve this goal.
The increase in the number of infected people in Croatia last week was a good reason for Austria to put Croatia on the red list, but when you look at the whole story, it is hard to believe that this is the only reason.