OPINION: Austria will pay a high price for Amstetten

It is a fair bet that, if it hasn't already done so by the time of publication, the Austrian tourist industry will shortly be calling in extra public relations support in the wake of the horrific 'babes in the cellar' case that has held the world in thrall.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

The image of a country massively dependent on its tourist industry has taken a fearsome battering as the macabre facts of the case have emerged.

Worse, as with certain other crimes, it has provoked a return to national stereotyping. As people around the world try to reassure themselves that such a nightmare could never have happened in their own particular back yards, the horrors of Amstetten are somehow viewed as defining Austria.

The resultant image is as far from the bracing charms of ski pistes, gluhwein and edelweiss as it could possibly be. There will be a high price to be paid in falling tourist numbers unless a corrective charm offensive is launched quickly, and with sensitivity and credibility.

Similar damage has been done in the past to Belgium as a result of horrendous paedophile cases, exacerbated by suspicions that corruption in high places contributed to them remaining undetected. Ongoing police investigations into such allegations in Jersey currently present a similar PR poser for the Channel Islands.

To a lesser extent, the Portuguese tourist industry has been assailed by the perception - created by the McCanns' ceaseless Find Maddie campaign - that roving paedophiles and an incompetent police force make Portugal an unsafe holiday destination.

The media campaign has reinforced the dependence of the Portuguese tourist industry on PR professionals to maintain the profile and reputation of the Algarve.

For Austria, the horrors of Amstetten - coming within two years of another similarly grotesque case of kidnap and sexual abuse - recall the ghosts of a dark past. Broadsheet and tabloid newspapers have picked over the fact that Austria was the nation that nurtured Adolf Hitler, the demonic founder of Nazism.

A relentless media examination of the national psyche has provided an unwelcome reminder of what lies beneath the snowy Alps and deep in the minds of some of its indigenous population.

The Austrian authorities - police, politicians, health service - seem starkly ill at ease with media attention. One can only assume that the concepts of media training and crisis management have not yet entered the training manuals.

Unless they do so shortly, both in Austria and across the nations supplying its tourists, the cost to the nation of a crime that has created global headlines will be as high as a mountain.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former senior executive at The Sun and Daily Mail

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