Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Thu July 23 2015

Austria's Hills Are Alive with Tourism

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | July 23, 2015

Austria's Hills Are Alive with Tourism

PHOTO: The Sound of Music drew the world’s attention to the alpine beauty of Salzburger Land. (Courtesy of Austrian Tourist Office)

The most memorable moment in this year’s Academy Awards took place when Lady Gaga paid homage to the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music with a medley of songs from the classic film that left even Julie Andrews breathless. When it opened in the spring of 1965, The Sound of Music struck a chord with millions of Americans. Rodgers, Hammerstein and Andrews were able to make wholesomeness as interesting and inspiring as all of the counter culture arts that were beginning to dominate at the time.

Austrians are to some extent mystified by the power of film and its music. They will usually remind you that the songs were American creations and the image of Austria it presents is through American eyes. However authentic and traditional Edelweiss may sound, it was a Rodgers and Hammerstein creation, no older than the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album.

“In the last 10 or 15 years Austrians have begun to embrace the music as high-quality family entertainment,” said Michael Gigl, region manager USA/Australia for the Austrian Tourist Office in New York. “At the same time they were filming The Sound of Music in Salzburg, the Beatles were a few miles away filming the ski scenes from Help. Still, the Austrians are celebrating 50 years of Sound and Music, and well they should as it has been a major catalyst for travel to Salzburg for decades now.”

These are giddy days for Austrian tourism as 2015 thus far is shaping up to be an amazing year in the first five months. “At its current rate, 2015 might well come in as the third straight year that the U.S. market has grown by 9 percent,” said Gigl. “We believe we could crack the 700,000 mark this year, a number we hadn’t reached since 2001. By May we were already at 196,000.”

In 2014, Austria sold an extra 123,000 hotel overnights to American travelers for an increase of 9 percent over 2013. In 2014 a total of 632,000 Americans arrived (+9 percent) in 2014. Altogether, Austria’s growth of 1.9 percent from all markets was a solid performance delivering 37.5 Million arrivals, which set a new record. The numbers don’t count the up to 120,000 Danube river cruisers from the U.S. Major destinations such as Vienna and Salzburg reported especially strong numbers, with increases in overnights from the U.S. of 14 percent (to a total of 748,000) and 10 percent respectively in 2014.

“Our two most prominent city destinations are currently the strongest engines on the market,” said Gigl. “We were excited to carry such strong momentum into 2015, which could be a banner year given the strengthening economy and strong dollar exchange. “  

The celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music will climax in October in Salzburg with a special musical gala event. “Salzburg is out in front of the rest of the country with U.S. arrivals at about 10 percent to the city,” said Gigl. “It’s fair to assume that the Sound of Music is playing an important role in that success.”

Sound of Music tours and attractions are getting additional business and some have expanded their programs. Fraeullein Maria’s Bicycle Tour offers a very interesting tour of The Sound of Music sights by bicycle. Among Scenic’s new river cruises is the eight-day Iconic Danube, from $3,245 per person double, which goes from Passau to Budapest. In Salzburg, there is a Best of Sound of Music and Salzburg Show.

While Vienna is outside the inner circle of The Sound of Music, it is inside its Ringstrasse Boulevard, which follows the footprint of the old city walls.    

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