When in Zell am SeeWhen in Zell am See

Act more Austrian, Arab tourists told

Ski town brochure urging Arab visitors to take off their burkas and stop haggling draws comparisons to apartheid

The lakeside resort town of Zell am See, in the Austrian state of Salzburg. (photo credit: Bestzeller/Wikipedia/public domain)
The lakeside resort town of Zell am See, in the Austrian state of Salzburg. (photo credit: Bestzeller/Wikipedia/public domain)

A state-distributed leaflet advising Arab tourists to stop haggling over prices, dumping litter and wearing burkas has caused a storm of controversy among residents and public officials in the Austrian ski resort town of Zell am See.

Mayor Peter Padourek defended the practice as an attempt to make the atmosphere of the region more comfortable for both locals and tourists from other parts of the world.

“When you have a situation where visitors from a particular country or region are over present, then it can be a problem,” he told the Salzburger Nachrichten, according to an Austrian Times translation. “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.”

Local cable car company manager Erich Egger echoed the mayor’s concerns.

“The feedback I’m getting from hoteliers is the other guests are saying to them they are not going to come again,” he said, according to the Austrian Times.

However, not all local business owners agreed with the decision to distribute the pamphlet. Hotel owner Wilfred Holleis even went as far as to say it was a form of discrimination.

“I see this as a kind of tourism apartheid,” he said according to the Austrian Times, adding that he had no problem with Arab tourists. “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.”

Local tourism spokeswoman Renate Ecker told the Nachrichten there had been over 275,000 overnight stays by Arab tourists in 2013 and that they are a boon to the tourism dependent region during the low season summer months, when they account for over a quarter of all tourists.

“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,” she said,adding that some hotels depend heavily on Arab guests and cater specifically to them.

The eight-page guide, titled “Where Cultures Meet,” produced by tourism officials, the police and the Austrian Arabic chamber of trade, includes a number of tidbits and advisories that address local concerns over road safety, littering, dress and behavior.

The pamphlet also advises that prices in Austria were not meant to be negotiated.

According to the Austrian Times, the most controversial debate over the pamphlet was the mention of the burka, with critics saying it would be seen as an attack on Islam. In the end, an advisory against wearing the traditional body cloak went in with an explanation that Austrian women dress as they wish, but typically choose to wear black as a sign of mourning; and that “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.”

One of the most pressing issues that spurred authorities to produce and distribute the pamphlet was a concern over road safety, as complaints of Arab tourists driving too fast, ignoring traffic laws and not putting seatbelts on children had reportedly become commonplace. In one 2013 incident, an Arab child who was not buckled up died in a car accident.

Issues may run deeper than those that can be addressed by a pamphlet, though.

“I don’t like it when we sell ourselves in this way,” Padourek said, referring to the appearance of signs in Arabic. “We don’t need to cozy up to anyone with gestures like this. We should limit ourselves to German and English.”

“They seem to think that if they pay, they can get whatever they want,” he added.

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