Discover Europe forges new connections

Austria, Germany and Switzerland tourism officials at the Discover Europe Travel Summit in Dubai

Offering insights into immersive experiences in the enchanting landscapes and diverse cultures of Austria, Germany and Switzerland, two-day event at Palazzo Versace Dubai, brought in more than 100 partners from the three countries – representing states, cities, hotels, and tourist attractions.

With the theme of fostering connections and collaborations, the event provided a great opportunity for the European nations to showcase their unique attractions, forge strategic partnerships, and strengthen ties with 120 buyers from the GCC travel trade.

A robust group of partners – 35 from Germany, 20 from Austria, and 45 from Switzerland – participated in the event, said Yamina Sofo, Director of the German National Tourist Office GCC Countries.

“Over the course of two days, these partners engaged in fruitful discussions and networking sessions with selected high-quality buyers, fostering relationships and striking business deals in anticipation of the bustling summer season,” she told TTN on the sidelines of the event.

Asked about the experiences they wish to offer regional travellers, Sofo responded: “The answer is simple: the breathtaking beauty and rich diversity of our countries. We offer a respite from the summer heat with our cooler climates and fresh air, alongside an abundance of culture, hospitality, luxury, shopping, and gastronomy –everything the GCC clientele desires.”



Europe, particularly Germany, has long been a favoured destination in this region for various pursuits, including travel, shopping, and medical needs. Post-pandemic, there’s been a shift towards seeking a balanced lifestyle, with an emphasis on extended holidays, outdoor adventures, and cultural immersion, explained Sofo.

“This year, we’re spotlighting our 52 Unesco World Heritage Sites, promoting our scenic hiking and cycling trails, and advocating sustainable travel through our interconnected train systems. Our focus extends to nature, culture, and wellness, with spa resorts enhancing the experience,” Sofo noted.

River cruises, especially on the Danube and the Rhine, have surged in popularity, allowing guests to unwind and enjoy the ever-changing vistas. Shopping remains a pivotal aspect of any travel experience, but travellers are increasingly seeking to immerse themselves in the essence of their destinations. Activities like cooking classes to delve into local flavours are becoming popular, according to Sofo.

“There’s a burgeoning interest in cultural enrichment. Visitors are eager to explore historical landmarks, wander through museums, and traverse the halls of ancient castles, all in pursuit of understanding the narrative of the place. It’s about forming a connection with the country’s soul and its inhabitants,” she continued.

Sustainability is a growing concern among travelers, who inquire about eco-friendly practices and seek out sustainable products and experiences. This has prompted the German National Tourist Board to prioritise sustainability for years, launching initiatives like the Feel Good campaign to encourage the tourism industry to adopt sustainable practices.

Reflecting on the post-COVID recovery trajectory, the numbers are indeed promising, she said. “By the close of 2023, we observed a commendable 82% rebound in room nights compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019. This is particularly encouraging for our region, considering the long-haul nature of travel involved. With a calendar brimming with sports events, cultural festivals, and major concerts, Germany anticipates an even stronger resurgence this year, inching towards complete recovery.”

The recent introduction of the five-year Schengen visa for Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia is indeed a game-changer. It promises to streamline the visa process significantly, reducing the need for repeated visits, she said.



Representatives from Austria showcased the country’s diverse offerings to potential travellers from the Middle East. The focus was on highlighting the country’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, particularly in regions like Vienna and Carinthia.

Austria’s capital, Vienna, known for its historical significance and grandeur, offers a plethora of five-star properties, concentrated around the iconic Ringstrasse. “Vienna is always worth a visit,” remarked Michael Tauschmann, Director of Austrian Tourism in GCC, emphasising the city’s allure to tourists. Additionally, the stunning Alps and picturesque lake regions provide a refreshing escape, even during the summer months.

“We have 25,000 lakes in Austria, all boasting drinking water quality,” he noted. “In summer, visitors can enjoy the cool mountain air, lush greenery, and pristine lakes, perfect for relaxation.”

The introduction of Carinthia, Austria’s southern province, as a new destination for Middle Eastern travellers, further expands the country’s offerings.

Carinthia, renowned for its scenic beauty, offers an idyllic retreat with its abundance of lakes and mountains.

Austria has witnessed a significant increase in tourists from the Middle East, with a record 1.5 million overnight stays in 2023, with Saudi Arabia leading the charge and surpassing pre-COVID figures. The average daily expenditure of €450 by these visitors is a testament to Austria’s appeal, he noted.

“The Middle East has been the most dynamic market since the pandemic, and Austria remains a popular choice for travellers,” he stated.

“The GCC community cherishes its warm hospitality and the leisurely charm of its coffee house culture, which resonates deeply with Middle Eastern traditions of relaxation and enjoyment of life,” said Anna Lichtenegger, Marketing Manager Middle East, Austrian Tourism.

Vienna, Austria’s heart, is a shopping paradise, offering an array of brands against the backdrop of its rich cultural tapestry, including the opera and classical concerts.

Austria offers more than just culture and nature; wellness is woven into the fabric of our towns, which are sanctuaries of health and relaxation, offering everything from detox retreats to rejuvenating spa treatments.

For the millennial travellers, Austria has become a winter wonderland where they can learn to ski, while the picturesque landscapes provide the perfect Instagram backdrop. “But it’s not just about capturing memories; it’s about making them. Families and young adventurers alike are now seeking active experiences, from hiking in the summer to delving into the country’s rich history and culinary traditions through cooking classes,” she said.



Swiss suppliers attending the event brought a comprehensive representation of Switzerland right into this room.

Traditionally, people visit Switzerland for its fresh air, stunning nature, green meadows, and crisp lakes and mountains. These are the classic attractions that draw visitors, and they will continue to do so. However, we are eager to promote new destinations, experiences, and travel options to the regional traveler, said Livio Goetz, Director, GCC, Swtizerland Tourism.

“One area we’re particularly keen to highlight is train travel. While visitors from the GCC region typically travel by car, traveling by train offers a different experience. You can see more, enjoy meals and drinks, and socialise without focusing on driving. It’s a wonderful way to explore Switzerland,” he said.

Another focus is promoting autumn as a travel season. September through November is a beautiful time to visit, with stunning autumn colours, fresh air, and fewer tourists. Hotels have more availability, and the scenery is different, yet equally captivating with colourful leaves and serene landscapes, he added.

Regarding new destinations, he said Switzerland may be small, but it is incredibly diverse. “If you’ve visited places like Lucerne, Interlaken, or Geneva, consider exploring Graubünden, the Lake Geneva region, or Basel. There are many hidden gems and new experiences waiting to be discovered. For example, you can visit Zurich and the Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe, or explore watchmaking in the Lake Geneva region. New flights to Basel and other areas also open up additional travel opportunities,” he continued.

“Switzerland is a leader in luxury and wellness tourism, attracting visitors for post-surgery treatments and recreational health reasons. This segment continues to grow, particularly within the luxury market.”

The Gulf region remains a resilient and established market for Switzerland and despite various global and regional challenges, it has seen consistent growth in overnight stays. “Saudi Arabia is a key market, with the highest number of overnights. We’ve even opened a small office in Riyadh and signed an MoU with the Saudi Tourism Authority to promote mutual tourism interests,” Goetz said.