Interview: Norbert Kettner
Norbert Kettner c Peter Rigaud

Norbert Kettner c Peter Rigaud

Interview: Norbert Kettner


Occupation CEO of WienTourismus
Air miles each year over 100,000
Most spontaneous purchase trench coat von Hermès
Best sales pitch “I don’t need this coat.” – „Of course not. No one needs this coat.”

From China to the USA, from the UAE to Brazil: the CEO of WienTourismus promotes Vienna around the world. We talked to him about shopping tourism as well as the old and the new Vienna as a shopping city.

Are shopping tourists a distinct kind of tourist?
Shopping is just as much as part of urban tourism as sightseeing, culture and going out for a meal. The one is inconceivable without the other. If shop windows are constantly under your nose, eventually you will buy something. Whether it’s a knickknack or something larger.

Describe a typical shopping tourist.
Internationally educated. Brand-aware. Status and quality are crucial for them.

Age is no longer a criterion. The dividing line between different generations’ lifestyles has blurred too much. Actually, Vienna had a problem with that for a long time: the idea that someone would go to a jeweller’s in flip-flops and ripped jeans and spend €100,000 on a watch. The idea that the customer wasn’t dressed smarter than the staff was earth-shattering. It is thanks to the Goldenes Quartier – among other places – that international standards have arrived in the city.

What standards?
That the traditional notion of elegance and luxury-brand clients no longer bears any resemblance to what people in Vienna thought in the 1970s and ’80s. When people weren’t allowed into the State Opera without a tie. Nowadays there is smart and light luxury. People have to get used to that.

Why do we have deeper pockets when we’re on holiday?
Because we have more time and because we want to have something to take home with us. Which often goes completely wrong. Wine often tastes really good on holiday, but at home you think, “What is that?” With Asian visitors there is the additional point that luxury articles are much cheaper here and, most importantly, are definitely not fake.

How do you advertise a city to shopping tourists? You’re competing with Paris, London and Milan…
Courteously and truthfully. We always say: there are other cities where the shopping centres are hundreds of times larger than Vienna’s. But we have the Goldenes Quartier: a shopping centre in historical buildings, outdoors, in a pedestrian zone. Lots of international media have reported on it: the New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, Asia One. In Vienna the shops are in the heart of the city, not somewhere on the outskirts. Vienna offers smaller, but more specialized shops and lots of local brands that you can only buy here. We promise a shopping experience à la Vienne. But to be honest, guests who only come to Vienna to shop are a minority.

What can shops actively do to make shopping more attractive?
Cities have always been marketplaces and shop windows. Trade has shown what it’s capable of. Particularly in Vienna. This city was a stronghold of window dressing until the Second World War. All of the big department stores that were then Aryanized had been famous for it: Gerngross, Herzmansky, Zwieback and Haas & Söhne.

It would be nice if there were more artistic window displays.
True! The Goldenes Quartier anticipated that – they kept the classic, old Viennese shop structure, which we are very grateful for. But shop windows also played an important role for women at that time: walking around window shopping was suddenly no longer considered improper. A huge leap towards emancipation.

“Everything was better in the old days,” is a saying you hear a lot in Vienna.
I am completely unromantic in that regard. In the ’70s you had to travel to Munich to buy fashion that you could get away with wearing outside Austria. I do not want to return to that state of affairs.

What can a city do for shopping tourism?
Local trade always acts as a beautician for neighbourhoods. At the same time, you need a symbiosis with international brands that bring in visitors. You need a combination of quality, status, manufacturing. That combination is what makes a city – as it does in gastronomy. I want to have sushi today and Wiener schnitzel tomorrow. What makes a city stand out? More opportunities and freedom of choice than elsewhere.

Lots of people find the first district too loud, too touristy, too much glitz.
The first district is the parlour of the republic, as it were, and it’s difficult to find a balance between liveliness and lifelessness, a circus and boredom.

Very diplomatic.
The number of ticket sellers has reached an unbearable level. Often you really have to squeeze your way past them. Being accosted like that makes you feel less secure. But I don’t always want things to be squeaky clean, either. That would be stifling. Our promise is that when you come to Vienna, you come to a delightful, romantic metropolis.

News about Vienna in 2015 was filled with the Ringstrasse’s anniversary celebrations – and coincidentally Eurovision, too. What can we expect from 2016 and the years to come?
No big celebrations. 100 years ago we were at war and Emperor Franz Josef died. That is not a great topic to celebrate. But 2018 will be the year of Viennese Modernism. Schiele, Klimt, Koloman Moser and Otto Wagner all died in 1918. And 19th-century Vienna is still a big draw.

What is run-of-the-mill for you?
Malls that all look the same, whether you’re in the USA or in Dubai.

Your last word?
Shopping can make you happy.

You, too?
I am very happy when people are nice to me. Nice people can sell me anything. That is my plea: be nice to your customers and you’ll reap the rewards.

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