Tuesday, 03. March 2015
24. 06. 14. - 16:00
Tourism chiefs in Salzburg have been forced to withdraw a controversial etiquette guide for Arabs that aimed to stop them trying to haggle over prices, cooking in their rooms, and dumping their litter around the region.
The pamphlets were being handed out to Arabic guests in the lakeside resort of Zell am See, regarded as one of the most picturesque and expensive of Austria's tourist destinations.
Tourism marketing director Marco Pointner confirmed that the guide had been withdrawn as "unfortunately, certain passages led to misunderstandings".
"We will revise the brochure with input from guests and locals," he said.
He added that there had not been any noticeable decline in bookings by Arab guests but that it was important to maintain the number of tourists visiting from the Middle East and he hoped that this year there would be an increase.
Located in the Kitzbuhel Alps, the town is the number one of the country's lakeside destinations on the edge of the 68-metre (223 ft) deep Lake Zell.
But while many locals have been complaining about the way the Arab guests behave, the region does not want to give up the tourism revenue, which in the last 10 years has increased in the Zell am See-Kaprun region by several hundred percent, according to Leo Bauernberger, managing director of Salzburg region tourism board. He added: "Arabs love to make visits to the region, they love the clear fresh water, the mountain lakes and the climate."
According to the latest tourism statistics, last year there were 275,000 overnight stays by Arab guests in the region, and although the area is also a winter tourism destination almost all of the visits were in summer. To put that in perspective, between May and October 25.8 percent of all of the guests were Arabic, putting them ahead even of visitors from Germany who are normally the most common of the groups from abroad to be seen in Austrian resorts. In August that rose to 36 percent, with most coming from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia according to tourism spokeswoman Renate Ecker.
She said: "They often stay for several weeks, also at times when it's not so busy and in contrast to guests from other regions they are always delighted when it rains. They spend 240 EUR (195 GBP) per person per day which also puts them at double the level of other visitors. Some hotels depend so much on the Arab guests that they have almost no other visitors and even have cooks specially employed to cater to Arab taste."
But Ecker admitted that there were also tourism destinations in the region that did not so readily accept Arab guests, in particular those where there was a ban on people wearing a Burka, with the traditional costume being the biggest cause for concern in the area.
Local mayor Peter Padourek confirmed that the complete body covering Burka was the biggest reason for friction in the area.
He said: "When you have a situation where visitors from a particular country or region are over present, then it can be a problem. Austrians have the same problem in Lignano. Here the Arabs have the problem that their strong presence in the region is very clearly visible because of the Burka. That causes irritation among locals and among visitors from other countries. The guests are coming from other countries carry away with them a different image of our region." He also said that he was noticing increasingly that signs were being put up in Arabic and that didn't make him happy. He said: "I don't like it when we sell ourselves in this way. We don't need to cosy up to anyone with gestures like this. We should limit ourselves to German and English."
He also added that many locals did not like the mentality of our guests adding: "They seem to think that if they pay, they can get whatever they want."
Erich Egger who is the boss of the local cable car company that takes guests into the mountains in summer and winter said that it was a fact that many guests to Zell am See from other regions were being scared off from the visible presence of so many Arab guests. He said: "The feedback I'm getting from hoteliers is the other guests are saying to them they are not going to come again."
He said anybody that did not believe him only needed to look at the online comments that are posted by guests when reviewing hotels in the region.
But it is not just the Burka that is causing problems. Zell am See prides itself on the natural beauty of the region and they claim that the Arabs are leaving rubbish all over the place as well. They are also accused of ignoring the traffic laws everybody else has to observe, in particular parking, and the pamphlet partly came about as a result of discussions between local police and tourism officials over driving issues.
The most common complaints were not just the parking but also the speed that the Arab guests drove at and the fact that children were usually not made to wear a seatbelt. Last year there was even one case where a child from an Arab family died in a car accident in Austria in which they were not wearing a seatbelt.
Renate Ecker said that the sceptical attitude of locals was a real cause for concern, adding: "If locals find a stumbling point to accept Arab guests, then that means trouble for tourism." She added that the region was massively dependent on tourism and therefore if that was impacted it could become a real problem.
But there is also the worry that if there turned out to be problems in the Middle East it could mean overnight that many rooms were suddenly not filled - and if other guests had been driven away that could also become a real problem.
One of those who doesn't agree with the decision to hand out the pamphlets is hotel owner Wilfried Holleis. He said he had absolutely no problem with Arab guests and that the whole discussion was a sign of the intolerance in the area. He said: "I see it as a kind of tourism apartheid. I think there are much more serious problems here, for example the number of people who don't spend any time here but buy property which is effectively just a holiday house and therefore make little or no contribution to the local economy."
The 8-page etiquette guide called "Where Cultures Meet" came out in May and was only being handed out to guests from Arab regions.
Erich Egger said: "I welcome guests from everywhere but it must be possible to lay down some rules. If those rules are followed, then the acceptance will also follow."
The most controversial part of the booklet was a debate about whether or not to mention clothing and the Burka at all. The worry was that it could be seen as an attack on Islam. In the end it was included together with the message that Austrian women can choose to dress themselves how they want and that black is a sign of mourning. It adds that the people from the region are used to looking into the laughing face of others in order to gain a first impression and in order to build trust. With this in mind, locals would be glad when visitors adopted the Austrian mentality.
It then also points out that children need to wear seat belts in the car, rubbish needs to be put in the bins, food should not be eaten on the floor of the hotel and cooking in the rooms is not tolerated, and prices are not to be negotiated.
It is not the first time friction has been seen between Austria and guests from Arabic regions. In 2012 the Austrian Times reported that the region's tourism officials had cancelled all advertising for the Middle East.
Local tourism boss Renate Ecker told the newspaper at the time: "It is perfectly normal if the market is very well developed that one doesn't invest valuable resources when you are already where you want to be. We would like to use our marketing resources to develop other areas, and for this reason only we have drastically reduced our investment in advertising in the Middle East."
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