Austria in need of rebranding?

Marketing ‘brand Austria’ would seem like an easy job. However, visitor numbers to Austria are down by a tenth and some fear the land of Mozart and Strauss may be going out of tune.

Vienna, easy on the eye and dripping with culture, boasts Mozart’s house, the Hof Palace, the Belvedere and streets lined with quaint, cozy cafes.

But some fear the ornate facades and rolling hills are losing their charm as the number of visitors to Austria this summer was down by nearly a tenth.

Some blame the financial crisis, but others wonder if it is because Austria’s image is being tarnished.

The country is dealing with the fallout from the anti-Islamic comments of a high-profile MP and the case of Joseph Fritzl, who kept his own daughter imprisoned for 24 years. The latter led to an attempt by the then-chancellor to try to restore the country’s image abroad.

But for a country that was the birthplace of Hitler, some say it’s destined to forever be a victim of history.

“Whenever a right wing statement or anti-Islamic or an anti-Semitic statement is made here, it is over evaluated,” said tour guide and historian Brigitte Timmermann. ”And since we had a troubled past, since we had all this Nazi involvement, we were the black sheep and will remain the black sheep forever.”

The unearthing of a president’s Nazi past in 1994 in the so-called "Waldheim Affair", was followed in 2000 by the formation of a coalition government with Jorg Haider’s controversial Freedom Party. It triggered a dramatic diplomatic shunning by all 14 EU members.

“I vividly remember that people started calling Austria a Nazi country again, and English parents refused to send their children over to Austria because they said Austria is a Nazi country,” Timmermann said.

Others agree that those two incidents alone did damage the country’s image, but at the same time they allowed Austria to make peace with its history.

"Austria was facing, for the first time, its own past and its guilt about World War II, and it lead to an open discussion and a kind of clearing and cleaning of its past,” said Head of Austrian Society for Marketing Wolfgang Bachmayer.

However, although Austrians may have exorcized their historical demons, the future demands attention. According to British branding expert Wally Olins, Austria does have an image crisis.

“It is seen to be subordinated to Germany, confused with Switzerland and most people who think about it at all don’t know what to think,” he said

It was the great Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who came up with the idea of repressed guilt. And this may apply to the nation itself in how it deals with its past. In any case, Austria now needs to define a more contemporary image before others do it for them.