The Actor, the Feast and the Growth of Burgenland’s Wine Tourism

Burgenland, southeast of Vienna, has rapidly become one of Europe’s most dynamic wine tourism regions. Here’s how they did it.

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Nicholas Ofczarek tastes Burgenland (Photo: Felix Vratny/Burgenland Tourism)
Nicholas Ofczarek tastes Burgenland (Photo: Felix Vratny/Burgenland Tourism)

The table is vast and groaning with food. Austrian movie star Nicholas Ofczarek, who dives in and begins to feast. It’s an ad, in which Ofczarek showcases Burgenland’s wine and culinary heritage. In another, he’s literally tasting vineyard terroir.

A recent six-part tourist campaign for Burgenland, the spots have been a big hit, winning an award, and generating enormous public interest.

“Many people said, ‘now we’re going to go and see Burgenland’,” says Christian Zechmeister, CEO of Wine Tourism Burgenland. “We had an increase in people coming this year, by far — I think we’re number three in Austria now, given the increase from January till August 2023.” Which is extraordinary, given how many Europeans are still making up for the pandemic-era deprivation by heading outside Europe for holidays.

Burgenland is now one of the most dynamic wine tourism regions in Europe, and is tipped to grow even faster, thanks to a series of important initiatives that are being put in place.

Wine tourism set to explode

Burgenland’s biggest city, Eisenstadt, has always been a major tourist draw, thanks to cultural landmarks like the treasure-filled Esterházy Palace, or the Haydn-Haus. Eisenstadt also boasts more than 100 ha of vineyards, as befits the gateway to this significant wine region.

On the border of Hungary, Burgenland — notable for its red wines — has been growing grapes since Roman times, and is made up of six smaller appellations: Neusiedlersee DAC, Leithaberg DAC, Ruster Ausbruch DAC, Rosalia DAC, Mittelburgenland DAC, and Eisenberg DAC.

Wine tourism has been economically important since the early 1990s, when a group of winemakers formed the Burgenland Wine Association. The association's goal was to promote the region's wines and wine tourism. One of their first initiatives was a wine road, which connects many of the wineries.

In the late 1990s, just after Austria joined the EU, Burgenland´s winemakers began to invest in the construction of wine cellars, tasting rooms, and other facilities at wineries which were co-funded by the European Union. It was money well spent — the region is one of Europe’s most beautiful, encompassing Lake Neusiedl, a UNESCO World Heritage area, and it’s a magnet for hikers and bikers. In 2022, nearly three million people — mostly from German-speaking countries — visited the region, and wine tourism generated over €300 million in revenue.

But, it turned out, there was even more potential waiting to be tapped. Last year, research revealed that food and wine “ is one of the main reasons that people go to Burgenland,” says Zechmeister. “We realised Burgenland can get even more guests if we focus more on wine.”

As the climate changes, it also means that tourists are more likely to stay on through autumn, rather than disappear to warmer places.

“I like to say our goal is ‘one more night’,” says Zechmeister. “Stay one night longer, because there are so many things to do.”

Trails in Burgenland (Photo: Oliver Gast/Burgenland Tourism)
Trails in Burgenland (Photo: Oliver Gast/Burgenland Tourism)

Transport infrastructure is critical

Zechmeister is hard at work on a new programme to be launched mid-2024 — the Vino Taxi, “to get everybody safe back to the hotel after a tasting”. Whether it’s one person or a group, they can call the Vino Taxi and either a car or a shuttle bus will pick them up. “I don’t want anyone to sit behind the steering wheel after a tasting,” he said.

There are also plans to improve transport around St Martinsfest on 11 November, which celebrates the patron saint of wine. “It’s called Martiniloben and there are many days of open cellar doors and events,” said Zechmeister. “This year we widened the programme to include all of Burgenland, not only the areas around Lake Neusiedl.”

Visitors will now have different packages to choose from. They can drive themselves, or they can book a hotel and transportation package.

Expanding the public transport offerings are a linchpin of the new strategies. “The government is currently restoring Deutschkreutz main station for over €30 million.”

Zechmeister and his colleagues are also working on a new festival programme that will now take place in spring. “I think what made us successful is that we really focused on the untypical travelling times like spring and fall, which is a beautiful time.”

Bike riding in Burgenland (Photo: Oliver Gast/Burgenland Tourism)
Bike riding in Burgenland (Photo: Oliver Gast/Burgenland Tourism)

Zechmeister said they’ve been working on incorporating specific activities, like a mountain bike ride, into the wine tourism offering. “You can go there as a professional and ride the mountains, or we have a shuttle that brings you up if you just want to ride downhill. It’s perfect for families,” he said. “We’re going to do birdwatching tours, so nature is always a part of the programme that we do.”

Projects like these are rare in the world of wine tourism, because they involve the wine sector working hand-in-hand with larger organisations. “For two years, we’ve worked together with the Burgenland Tourist Office,” who themselves have worked with the Austrian National Tourist Office for many years, said Zechmeister, adding that they have provided “the missing link. Now wine and tourism work together, and wine has become an integral part of the tourism strategy as well.”

Everybody benefits

Eventually, Zechmeister wants to attract international tourists. “The thing that will help us is Vienna as a city, and the airport in Vienna,” he says. “It’s just 45 minutes by car, or 49 minutes from Vienna’s main station.”

Zechmeister says Wine Tourism Burgenland is now working with cellar doors to help them to develop tourist attractions beyond tastings — because the people are definitely coming. “One colleague of mine just had the idea of having a horse carriage ride through the vineyards, then stopping at a heuriger. It was an easy idea and they thought maybe one or two people would book it. They had more than a hundred groups in his second year.”

So successful was it that they won the inaugural wine tourism award, the Rot Goldene Traube (Red and Golden Grape).

Wineries can see for themselves the benefits of developing their offerings. “It started with Kirnbauer in Deutschkreutz buying a hotel, and now having a wine boutique hotel or Erich Scheiblhofer opening a wine resort with more than 130 rooms,” he said. “We are really encouraged — we think there’s a big chance when wine and tourism come together and it will help everybody in Burgenland.”

Film star Nicholas Ofczarek is also doing his part. He will be back again next year, for another wine tourism campaign, enjoying the feast that is Burgenland.

Which means even more tourists will be on the way.

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Niederösterreich, or Lower Austria, is the largest wine region in Austria, and is famous for the variety and quality of its wines, made from unique varieties.

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