While concerns about the H1N1 virus have stalled travel plans for many this year, the Austrian National Tourist Office (ANTO) says Vienna reported a year-on-year increase of 62% in the number of visitors from the Gulf region at the end of May.
Anecdotal reports by outbound tour operators suggest overall bookings from the Middle East for the upcoming summer holidays have dropped over the last few weeks. This may well be a combined effect of the current financial crisis and fears of the H1N1 virus, but countries across the world are preparing for lower number of travellers in the coming months.
Klaus Ehrenbrandtner, Director Middle East, ANTO, however says that overall growth from the market is still healthy. “Austria has seen the best year so far in terms of both number of visitors and overnight stays by Middle Eastern travellers this year. At the end of April, Austria recorded a 31% increase in arrivals and overnight stays from the Middle East. End-May figures are not yet available for every region, but Vienna – a major gateway city to Austria –welcomed 62% higher number of travellers from the GCC nations compared to last year.”
Austria is one of the few countries that have remained relatively untouched by the H1N1 virus. As of June 20, nine flu cases had been confirmed, all but one in overseas visitors. Even so, Austria is not planning to limit access to the country. Preferring to be prepared, Austria has stockpiles of around four million pills of Tamiflu, enough to treat almost half of the country’s population if required.
Alarmed at the drop in travel to affected countries, the World Health Organisation has repeatedly declared that “limiting travel and imposing travel restrictions would have very little effect on stopping the virus from spreading, but would be highly disruptive to the global community”.
Professor Hubert Hrabcik, Director General for Public Health at Austria’s Federal Ministry for Health, says: “Risk of infection in Austria is very unlikely. In the event that a guest does fall ill, he or she can rest assured that the Austrian health system will provide proper medical treatment, by which influenza can be easily cured within a few days.”