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Reader question: Is travelling to Austria this winter worth it?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected] • 7 Nov, 2022 Updated Mon 7 Nov 2022 15:49 CEST
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(Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash)

High inflation, energy crisis, a possible new Covid wave - these factors are a concern for people living in Austria right now. So, is your winter trip still worth it?

After years of restrictions, including closures and strict travel rules, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2022/23 winter season seems to be closer to what people were used to before 2020.

But Russia's war in Ukraine, contributing to rising inflation in the eurozone and an energy crisis, plus the fact that new cases of Covid-19 continue rising, have put a big question mark over the Austrian winter season.

Despite all that is happening, is it still worth travelling to Austria this winter? Will people be able to afford their expenses in the country? Will there be heating for everyone?

The inflation and energy crisis in Austria

Heating and electricity prices are going up in Austria, but the federal and state governments have looked for ways to either contain the increases or cushion their effects.

In June, a €6 billion package to fight the rising cost of living impact on residents was announced, as The Local reported. It involved increasing family allowances, cutting taxes and one-off welfare payouts, including the €500 Klimabonus that (almost) every single person living in the Alpine country was entitled to.

It helped ease the effects of inflation, but it did not halt the resign prices. In October, Austria announced that inflation hit a 70-year high at 10.5 percent. Again, household energy was the main price driver, followed by fuel costs for transport and food (groceries and restaurants).

Additionally, restaurant and hotel prices have increased by 10.5 percent in the past year.

READ ALSO: How could Austria’s new electricity price brake benefit you?

As prices are not expected to come down substantially anytime soon, you should prepare for a more expensive winter vacation, especially if you are skiing, as ski resort prices and ski passes are already costing up to 20 percent more than last year.

However, the rising prices do not mean Austria has a high risk regarding its supply, as The Local reported. The alpine country is well equipped for electricity supply - with most of its power coming from hydroelectric or wind power farms.

READ MORE: Reader question: What are the chances of blackouts in Austria this winter?

In total, around 80 percent of Austria’s electricity comes from renewables and the country has a high percentage of "security supply".

Austria was also one of the first countries to institute an electricity price brake, partially subsidising energy bills even for those with only a second-home in the country.

What about heating?

Heating is seen as a more delicate situation. The war in Ukraine and Europe’s dependence on Russian gas have made many people in the continent, including Austria, concerned about the supply of energy, especially in the coming winter.

Since deciding to reduce its dependency on Russian gas, the country has looked for other partners and other storage possibilities. In early October, the Climate Ministry confirmed that storage tanks were 80 percent full, reaching its winter target ahead of schedule.

“Today, we can say we are well prepared. Our storage facilities are 80 percent full and continue to fill up.”, said Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) at the time.

According to the federal government, there are no restrictions on residential heating and no plans to impose an upper limit on how much you can heat your home this winter.

READ ALSO: ‘Mission 11’: Austrian government reveals tips on how to save energy and fuel

However, the Climate Ministry did launch a voluntary campaign for energy savings, which included the recommendation that people reduce the heating temperature by two degrees Celsius over winter.

Federal and municipal buildings and state companies have also announced their own measures. For example, in Vienna, public indoor pools will only be heated up to 27C while public transport's temperatures would be reduced by two degrees.

Private companies are also free to take their own energy-saving measures. So, if you plan on using the SPA facilities in your hotel, you could ask if they are taking any such actions.

Most Christmas lights will be up - though for a shorter period each day (Photo by Anton on Unsplash)

Some ski business operators have already mentioned solutions, including switching off seat heating in lifts, using less lighting at stations and even stopping (or operating less) night skiing.

The speed of cable cars could be reduced from midday to the afternoon, and operators plan to use snow-making machines more efficiently.

READ ALSO: What to expect from the ski season in Austria this winter

What about Christmas markets?

Austria is famous for its beautiful Christmas markets, with the lights and decorations a highlight.

Each city will impose its energy measures, mainly consisting of two things: lights will be on for shorter times during the night, and there will be a reduction (or cut) in electric heaters outdoors.

In Vienna, the Christmas lights are already set up even in the first district shopping streets. However, they will be turned off at 10 pm (instead of midnight) to save energy. Additionally, almost all the lights are now energy-saving LED, as the city has been for ten years converting the decoration, according to the country's trade association WKO, which negotiates the decoration with the city.

READ ALSO: Nine festive foods and drinks that no Austrian Christmas is complete without

Also, there will be fewer Christmas illuminations in other parts of the city, including the Ringstrasse, the famous boulevard that encircles the centre of the Austrian capital.

And the lights at the Christmas market in the square in front of the city hall would only be switched on at night and not at dusk, as in previous years, according to city spokeswoman Roberta Kraft.

In conclusion…

Things will definitely be more expensive - so you'll have to factor that in - but nobody will be cold at home or in hotels and restaurants. There is also (thankfully) no talk of potentials blackouts or prolonged power shortages.

Christmas is also not being cancelled. Even if some places have fewer lights, those will shine bright (for a shorter period) in the most traditional areas of towns.

Regarding the pandemic, Vienna has an FFP2 mask mandate in public transport, but the federal government said it sees no reason to impose further measures or restrictions any time soon. There is also no expectation of any travel restrictions coming into place. But, of course, this all depends on if there are any major unexpected events or new, dangerous, Covid-19 variants being discovered. Let's hope for the best, though. 

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Amanda Previdelli 2022/11/07 15:49

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