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Austrian Airline’s Bad Sense of Timing

What was Austria’s national airline thinking when it kicked off a new ad campaign at a dicey moment?

April 19, 2000

What was Austria's national airline thinking when it kicked off a new ad campaign at a dicey moment?

A new ad campaign of Austrian Airlines, splashed throughout Washington’s subway system, makes a tempting offer. For a mere $330, you can fly from Washington to fabled Vienna, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Of course, the ad urges travelers to seize the day — prices are good for a limited time only. A similar urgency is conveyed by the ad’s slogan, which beckons travelers to “Take the Express to the New Europe.”

Travelers may be forgiven if they choose to postpone or cancel trips to Austria’s “New Europe.” In the first month after the European Union condemned the Austrian government for embracing Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party — and its xenophobic policies — some 30,000 overnight hotel stays in Vienna were cancelled.

Evidently, the “New Europe” advertised by Austrian Airlines is not exactly what foreign travelers are looking for. At a minimum, the Freedom Party’s staunch opposition to immigration and EU expansion does little to make Austria sound inviting to foreigners hoping to enjoy the country’s concert halls and Alpine vistas.

For the time being, the EU is standing firm on keeping up diplomatic pressure on the Austrian government. Thus, one might conclude that the EU and Austria are having trouble agreeing on a common vision for the “New Europe.”

That fact was made doubly clear in February, when some 300,000 demonstrators showed up at Vienna’s “Heldenplatz” — the city’s famous square — to protest against the Freedom Party. To put the number of protesters into perspective, no other Austrian city has a population greater than 300,000, except Vienna itself.

But it gets better — or, depending how you look at it, worse. The Austrian National Tourist Office has long used what has come to seem like an all-too appropriate slogan for Haider’s Austria — “Europe with a difference.”

Truth in advertising may be a rare occurrence these days — but, given the political climate in Austria, it is at least commendable that the Tourist Office put truth over marketing. Austria is indeed Europe with a difference. Unfortunately, the political and social turmoil caused by these “differences” may not make Austria worth leaving home for.

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