Vienna re-opens – with one big difference

On May 15, restaurants, cafes and bars in my home city of Vienna were allowed to open again, between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. All the shops had opened one or two weeks earlier. I was eager to be able to eat out again and not to have to prepare breakfast and to cook other meals.

As I expected, many people were thinking the same. I made reservations at a restaurant for Saturday, but it turned out that it had not been necessary. There were a lot of tables available. There were a lot of people in the pedestrian zone in the city center, but much less than usually. Cafes were filled, but there were no queues. Overall I had the impression that people were quite hesitant. Entering shops with face masks and waiters serving you with face masks just makes you feel a bit uncomfortable.

A statue in Vienna's Michaelerplatz | Massimo Mastropietro via Flickr
A statue in Vienna’s Michaelerplatz | Massimo Mastropietro via Flickr

The reaction from the operators of the restaurants and cafes supports this impression. There were many fewer guests than I expected. Especially in the city center, the tourists are missing. What we as locals almost feel as a pain sometimes – over-tourism was a big topic last year! – is now missing.

In Vienna, as a city of roughly 2 million inhabitants and some 17.5 million bed nights per year, tourists are a major factor for business but also for the atmosphere in the city as a whole. As 80% of the tourists come from outside Austria, this will not change quickly. Tourism in Vienna and Austria depends on the developments around travel restrictions in the next weeks and months. However, even if the borders are open again and flights are available, people will remain hesitant to travel.

On May 29, hotels will be allowed to open again, but in Vienna less than 50% will open at that point. The others will stay closed. Even some restaurant operators have said that they are thinking about closing again or at least reducing the days and times they are open.

The next months will be challenging for the hospitality and travel businesses – not only in Austria. As a local Viennese, I will take the opportunity to visit some of the sights without crowds – there is always a positive aspect!