Barely two weeks after the final whistle of Euro 2008, teams from around the continent are heading back to Austria, this time to prepare for their upcoming seasons.
Over half of the German Bundesliga sides, as well as Italian, English, Spanish, Turkish and Romanian clubs – in all, about 60 foreign teams – are holding their pre-season training camps in the small alpine country, whether in mountainous Vorarlberg in the west, or the plains of Burgenland in the east.
And the Euro can take little credit for this.
The two most prestigious teams, Arsenal and Real Madrid, have been coming here for years: Arsene Wenger's troops will arrive on July 21 for their eighth visit, while the Spaniards, arriving the same day, will be here on their sixth outing.
“We started a little by chance with AS Roma in 1996,” says Nikolaus Pichler, whose firm IFCS runs a dozen camps, mostly in southern Styria province.
“They liked it so much that they came back eight years in a row. After that, others came too.”
For Paul Strassl, whose SLFC company manages camps in Salzburg province, success is due to a combination of factors: “We have big hotels, Austrian cuisine is well known and we have quality sport facilities.”
“The mountains are also ideal for physical training, it's not too hot.”
Visiting teams get the full treatment when they arrive here.
“We take care of everything: we fetch them at the airport, we drive the players to training, do the laundry. So they can focus on their game,” says Ingo, a student who has catered to several teams over the past few summers.
With Austria as an increasingly popular destination, specialised agencies, sanctioned by the European football governing body UEFA, are now even planning friendlies between teams training in the same region.
“That's another bonus,” says Pichler.
And the European football championship in June, which Austria co-hosted with Switzerland, brought just a little more publicity to this small country, whose performance on the pitch has been rather poor in recent years.
Now Strassl is hoping the Euro will bring him more business, especially from clubs in Spain, Greece and Russia, whose national teams were based in Salzburg and nearby Tyrol during the championship.
“We need word-of-mouth,” he says.
Local governments in both Styria and Salzburg also have a stake in IFCS and SLFC.
“We expect between 15,000 and 20,000 more overnight stays this season, thanks to these camps,” says Salzburg tourism director Leo Bauernberger.
In other words, the local economy will make a profit of about 4 million euros (6.36 million dollars).
And with images of these training camps creating further publicity on television, the two provinces are hoping to attract even more tourists in the future… whether they play football or not.
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