Martina Jamnig – Director Austrian National Tourist Office UK, avid fan of football and its impact on communities

„Success is like a perfectly driven deep snow slope, a feeling of satisfaction and happiness about a performance.“

As Director of the Austrian National Tourist Office in the UK, Martina Jamnig is a crucial influencer when it comes to the country’s image as a holiday destination abroad. Generated by her daily activity, her professional world naturally evolves around her home country. However, the rest of her world evolves around sports, more specifically around football – and everything that comes with it: the passion and enthusiasm, the singing and the support of teams and community.

Read for yourself how the person who describes herself as ‘determined’, ‘not easy to please’ and ‘open-minded’ sees – and promotes – a country that is ‘in the heart of Europe, yet too small to be its centre’, who influenced her most and what surprising criteria she uses to plan her own holidays.

You say: “I can talk about Austria all day, and I am even paid for it.” What are the most typical traits of Austrians?

I am from Carinthia (editor’s note: province in southern Austria), a region that I would specifically describe as open to people, including them gladly and easily in their activities. Surrounded by hills and mountains and neighbouring Slovenia and Italy, Carinthia is influenced by their cuisine. Quite generally, Austria has been influenced by a large number of cultures throughout its history. Peter Turrini (editor’s note: *1944, Austrian playwright) once said that the Austrian is a mongrel, given the countless cultural influences within the multi-ethnic state of the Habsburgs. I think we should be more aware, and proud, of our cultural diversity which combines the best of a lot of different worlds.

How is Austria seen in the UK? What are the specific challenges when it comes to projecting an authentic image?

As so often, image and reality diverge. By those who haven’t visited Austria yet, we are generally seen as ‘traditional’, as a ski nation and winter destination and also as ‘gemütlich’ (cosy) which is one of our main USPs (editor’s note: Gemütlichkeit, cosyness). Our challenge lies in communicating the fact that we are indeed a modern country that also offers a beautiful summer season with a variety of activities to go in for. By the way, I would suggest to revive ‘The Sound of Music’ in a modern version to showcase a more contemporary and accurate side of Austria 😉.

You have a number of professional experiences abroad – Germany, Sri Lanka, UK. In which way, if at all, did they shape you?

I was always drawn abroad, an endeavour that I did not start lightly as I am a reserved, rather shy and quiet person. However, my dream was big enough to persevere through initially challenging times or moments when a major city became just too loud, too fast, too much.

You get to know yourself very well when you live in an environment with varying settings compared to the ones you are used to. I particularly noticed this in Sri Lanka, a country with a completely different approach to time. It made me aware that I need a certain pace to feel challenged and thrive. My experience abroad also showed me that I can fully rely on my gut feeling when it comes to assessing my compatibility with places and people. And it made me look at my home country with different eyes, appreciating its safety and quality of life from afar.

You have been in the UK for 12 years now. What makes it so special for you? 

When we talk about the UK, we have to take into account that there are different regions, and they all have their own characteristics. I feel a special bond to Scotland, probably stemming from my university time there: I perceive Scotland quite similar to Carinthia, with a strong local identity and a fondness for singing. London as the capital is incredibly diverse, multi-cultural and open for everyone, and the people are friendly, polite and accommodating. I appreciate the rather reserved and calm British manner – and I must admit that I am not pleased when I am back in Austria and no one adopts the art of queuing. On a professional note, I perceive the Brits as very good negotiators.

All these things make the UK special for me. And, of course, the best football club – Arsenal.

You have a keen interest in football. What created this interest and enthusiasm?

My interest in football was planted in my childhood, when I would watch the matches of our village club, FC Diex – by the way the sunniest place in Austria 😉 -, with my uncles and my brother. Although I never played myself – for the simple lack of girls’ clubs at that time and also because I did not consider myself a great talent -, I grew up with this sport, being at the games every other week. Since my studies in Stirling, I have been a supporter of Arsenal. As a season ticket holder, I plan my holidays depending on Arsenal’s playing schedule.

You hold a Master’s degree in Sports Management and the Business of Football. What is the fascination with football for you? 

There is so much more than the game itself. The fascination lies in the fact that people from all walks of life come together, back their team and in the end support a whole community. Arsenal’s stadium for instance has been built on a former industrial and waste disposal estate. Since the stadium has been built, the whole area has evolved incredibly, and a lot of jobs have been created. Institutions like the Arsenal Foundation or Premier League Foundation even go a step further by offering motivation and inspiration through sport and education, having real impact on young people, nationwide and even on an international level.

My interest in the field ultimately led me to write my thesis about ‘The Social Value of Arsenal in the Community’. The general topic is something that in my opinion is not yet explored enough; I think that there is room for so much more.

Given your interest and determination – would you like to give football an even bigger role in your life and work in this industry? 

In my beginnings with the Austrian National Tourist Office, I already had the chance to combine my top interests – tourism and sports – by working as a Project Executive in close collaboration with UEFA, at the occasion of the European Football Championships 2008. That was in fact a perfect combination. I also don’t want to miss my experience as a volunteer at the London Olympics and Paralympics 2012, where I worked with football referees.

I am very fortunate to be in an industry that fascinates and fulfils me. However, there is a dream …

I am a good mixture of a visionary and someone who seizes opportunities that lie ‘along the way’. So, who knows what life still has in store for me 😉

Which person influenced you most in your life? 

Aside from my uncles who brought me to football, certainly my parents. They shaped the way I perceived role allocation and work ethics. Given the rural area I grew up in, my mother was supposed to stay at home and help on the farm. However, she opted for a less traditional, more independent role and her own job. My striving for independence and freedom – two things that are important to me in life – certainly stems from her. My father on the other hand was very hands-on, took pride in his work and conveyed to me the value of working morale.

Another person who impacted me was my first boss. She influenced the way I approach details and high-quality standards. Her exemplary nature and leadership have prepared me for many of my tasks today.

Which life events or milestones have shaped you most?

Besides my enthusiasm for football which I would rather describe as a natural development over a period of time, there was one event at the beginning of my career that must have particularly embossed me, as it is still very present in my memory.

I was told in a roundabout way that ‘people with my background’ will never be able to move confidently in certain social circles. I had never questioned my abilities or felt limited for my later activities because of my rural provenance, which is why I did not even take it personally – I saw it more like a snub against the whole profession of farmers. I even think that growing up on a farm can teach you a lot about some of the most demanded qualities-to-have for later management roles: appreciation for hard work, dedication, stamina, time-management and prioritising, to name just a few (and adds with a laugh: … as well as the understanding that vacation planning sometimes has to respond to specific timetables – see Arsenal 😉).

To this day, my absolute conviction is that everyone can reach their goals, fulfil their potential and make their dreams a reality, no matter where they come from, no matter what school they attended and no matter their background. My motto has always been: ‘Believe in the magic of your dreams – they are more possible than it seems.’

(published 29th January 2020)