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AseanAffairs Magazine
March - April 2010

The United States is facing daunting prospects in the Asia-Pacific region, a huge market for US goods, while China’s influence is growing as it makes rapid trade inroads in the region. The implications for the US and its need to redefine its ties with Asean are explored in our exclusive interviews with Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser & Director - Southeast Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Founding Partner, Brooks Bower Asia LLC and former President of the US-Asean Business Council, and Demetrios Marantis, Deputy United States Trade Representative for Asia.

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Interview with Dr. Andreas Bierwirth,
Chief Commercial Officer, Austrian Airlines Group

Q: How would you describe being the first woman CEO of the Austrian National Tourist Office?

A: I find that an interesting question, coming from a man. It’s a big honour to be the CEO of the Austrian National Tourist Office. But I think it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. I love the tourism industry; I’ve been working in this industry for twenty years. I started as a tour guide and when I was a photographer I went to Thailand to take pictures for my old company. The point is, I think it is a very interesting industry and that is why I love working in it.

Q: What are your priorities in strengthening the brand “Austria” as a leading travel destination?

A: We want to focus on people who search for an inspiring recreation. We are looking for the people who want their vacation to be something special and to contribute to their own development to give them a new perspective. What we want to offer people is to find a little bit of themselves. This is our position - we started this approach three years ago - what Austria stands for and why people should come to Austria instead of Switzerland. So we made quantitative questions, we had qualitative groups and group discussions with people about this. We had a perceptual map and that’s exactly how we knew where we are and where we wanted to be. We want to show the combination of traditional and modern culture and nature to give people the perspective of ‘Oh! I didn’t expect this to be Austria’. That is what we wanted to do, showing the modern part of Austria as well, not only the traditional part. This is what the brand is, to make an emotional difference, to give the country an emotional picture. Whenever we get into contact with our partners the brand has to be presented. It is not only a visual thing, it is a feeling.

Q: Besides the Alps and the capital Vienna, what are the largest tourist attractions in Austria? (We’ve learnt that you have set a target of 3 percent increase in arrivals and 17 million Euros in tourism receipts.)

A: I would say 2009 was a successful year for ANTO. This may come as a surprise answer because we’ve just got the results – we had a minus one percent for arrivals and minus 1.9 percent for overnight (visitors). Still, we gained market share and that means we did better than our competitors. Q: What about Southeast Asia? Austrian Airlines, as well as Swiss and Lufthansa, have been flying 21 times a week from Bangkok, Thailand, to Austria, Switzerland and Germany, offering more than 6,000 seats a week. Has there been any contribution to growth in Southeast Asian arrivals to Austria as a result of those air bridges? Secondly, focusing on our neighboring countries helped us and thirdly, numbers were better than expected.

Q: What are the top five markets for tourists to Austria? What do you think are the reasons for the rise and/or fall in arrival numbers from those countries – including the long-haul markets?

A: The first five countries are Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland. This was for 2008, and it was the same in 2009. This is in terms of arrivals. You have to take into consideration that almost 75 percent of overnights result from only 3 markets - Germany, Austria (itself) and the Netherlands. The Netherlands only had 7 percent. So, you can imagine how important Germany and Austria are. We have a strategic focus on spreading our markets. It’s not good to depend on two markets. This means we have to work with our suppliers as well. If you want to offer something in Asia you have to have the right offers. That means our suppliers have to adapt themselves. For example, what is the intercultural difference? So coming back to your question, of course we have five markets, but to be honest we have only two, so we have to spread. That is why we still work very hard on long-haul markets and growth markets. Still, we have to keep up in this traditional market and that is the part we have to fulfill with the same budget as last year. This is the challenge, to create efficiency.

Q: What are your strategies for new or potential markets, including those in Asia?

A: We have strategies not only for Asia, but for any new markets we’re in. Basically, each market has a market strategy, which is the most important thing. We don’t do the same marketing all over the world. For example, Michael here is doing his marketing in Japan and in the Asian market. He’s looking at the need over there … how many potential customers we can get … who the competitors are … in which field we can succeed … what we can offer, etc. This is not only for Asia but for everywhere. This is the approach – we’ve got limited resources and we have to invest them wisely.

Q: ANTO set aside 60 percent of its budget of 52 million euro on marketing in 2009. How much of that went to promoting tourism in Asia? Please give us some examples of your tourism campaigns in Asia?

A: Roughly 9 percent of the total marketing budget went to tourism in Asia, not including staff or infrastructure like office rent etc. I’m talking only about marketing. We’ve got 31 million euros for our marketing budget.

Q: What about Southeast Asia? Austrian Airlines, as well as Swiss and Lufthansa, have been flying 21 times a week from Bangkok, Thailand, to Austria, Switzerland and Germany, offering more than 6,000 seats a week. Has there been any contribution to growth in Southeast Asian arrivals to Austria as a result of those air bridges?

A: This is a very tough question for me because I’m not so familiar with this market. As far as I would say it is always good to have direct non-stop connections or direct connections because it makes it very easy for travelers and it helps with the marketing. But to put it in precise numbers, what percentage of travellers have increased due to direct flights, we cannot judge. We don’t have the measures and we don’t get this information. We cooperate with different airlines but it’s not like we receive transit passenger numbers. Recently, I saw the numbers at Vienna airport and I was surprised because I thought it would be even more. But in the near future, I expect the numbers will rise. But I think it doesn’t matter which company you are working for today. You have to streamline, you have to adjust. Things change each day, and you have to adjust yourself.



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