Image of Switzerland remains sound

Japanese tour operator Kazuya Nemoto at the Lucerne fair

Foreign tour operators say the image of Switzerland as a tourist destination remains largely intact, despite some criticism of the country as a financial centre.

This content was published on May 20, 2009

This was the view they gave at the Switzerland Travel Mart, which has taken place in the central Swiss city of Lucerne.

The year 2008 will be remembered not only for the negative headlines about Swiss banking secrecy but also because of the billions of losses at the country's largest bank, UBS, which had to be rescued with state help.

But as far as tourism is concerned, last year was a record.

The loss of image that Switzerland has suffered as a financial centre since 2008 seems to have left fewer traces on tourism than originally feared, according to foreign buyers of tourist services in Lucerne.

"The Japanese still see Switzerland as a kind of 'alpine overseas Japan' where cleanliness, security and prosperity reign," Kazuya Nemoto told swissinfo.

Nemoto, who is a Tokyo specialist on travel to Switzerland, said that the savings conscious Japanese often had financial problems that were similar to those of the Swiss – low interest rates and an ageing population which was eroding retirement provisions.

"The Japanese pay between 45 and 55 per cent in income tax," he said.

Tax evasion

However, tax evasion and the flight of capital are rather alien to the Japanese. "The fear of taking risks abroad is bigger than fear of the taxman."

As a result the notion of Switzerland as a tax haven is not an issue.

"It is even possible that UBS is not considered that much of a Swiss bank in the United States," Canadian Richard Davidson told swissinfo. Davidson, who is based in Houston, Texas, organises ski holidays to Europe, including Switzerland.

"UBS as a European financial institute is often associated with London. And London is considered the financial centre that trades questionable investment products throughout the world."

On the other hand, Wall Street is perceived as a faceless financial centre and as a part of it UBS is considered "no worse than all the others".

Pastures green

Since the conflict broke out in Kashmir, Switzerland has become a holiday destination for the Indian middle class. Bollywood film producers took leave of Kashmir and came to the Bernese Oberland so that they could continue to shoot films with green pastures and mountains. The public followed them.

One participant said he estimated that no more than one per cent of the Indian population paid income tax and so tax evasion was hardly a big issue, although the flight of capital to Switzerland did appear in the Indian media during the general election.

Wisdom in advertising has it that knowledge about a country decreases and clichés increase the further away travellers are from their destination. That means that publicity subjects like mountains, cows or Heidi make sense in the US, Japan and India.

But that doesn't apply any more in the case of neighbours France or Germany.

"There will not be that many fewer tourists from France in the coming year," Michel Ferla who is responsible for France at Switzerland Tourism said. "But the attacks on Switzerland as a tax paradise have not helped."

The French account for a million overnight stays in Switzerland, while the Germans make up more than six million. Despite criticism of Switzerland from German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, Germans still like the country.

Quality image

However, in other holiday countries, prices have gone down. That means keeping the quality image of Switzerland as a tourist destination is more important than the attacks on the country's politics.

What disturbs Christina Marzluff, head of the German office of Switzerland Tourism, are the hate campaigns by some Swiss newspapers that look out for the "most irritating" or "most stupid" German. She says this hardly promotes Switzerland as a holiday destination.

Alexander Künzle, (adapted from German by Robert Brookes)

Switzerland Travel Mart

The event takes place every two years in a Swiss holiday resort. Lucerne hosted this years event from May 14-19.

It is a trade event that brings together foreign buyers of beds and transport services who work out prices for the coming season with hoteliers, event organisers and transport companies.

Around 800 people tourist specialists took part in the Lucerne event, including 450 invited foreign buyers (tour operators and niche players).

Income from tourism amounted to SFr21.7 billion ($19.4 billion) in 2004, of which SFr9.7 billion was accounted for by foreign tourists.

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Foreign guests

From Germany: 2.5 million arrivals and 6.3 million overnight stays in 2007 (30% of foreign guests)

Britain: 826,000 arrivals and 2.3 million overnight stays (10.6%)

France: 671,000 arrivals and 1.4 million overnight stays (6.7%)

United States: 652,000 arrivals and 1.5 million overnight stays (7.1%)

Italy: 540,000 arrivals and 1.2 million overnight stays (5.4%)

Japan: 278.000 arrivals and 494.000 overnight stays (2.3%)

India: 132,000 arrivals and 327,000 overnight stays (1.5%)

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