Swiss tourism weathers the storm

Empty tables are filling up again after a bad year Keystone

Predictions of doom and gloom for Switzerland's summer tourism season appear to have been premature.

This content was published on July 19, 2002 - 12:27

While American and Japanese visitors continue to stay away, healthy numbers of Swiss tourists, as well as visitors from neighbouring European countries, are almost compensating for the shortfall.

Switzerland Tourism is upbeat about prospects for the year as a whole, predicting, at worst, a decrease of one per cent in the market.

"Figures compared to last year are slightly down because of the crises last autumn, but we are positive and expect this summer to be a good one," press officer Silvia De Vito told swissinfo.

"The latest figures show bookings have been relatively positive. In May there was a slight increase of two per cent in the domestic market and a similar increase from France, Spain and Italy. There was a big increase from Gulf countries, China and Russia, which are our emerging markets.

Germans stay away

Meanwhile visitor numbers from the US, Japan and Germany are down - a fact largely attributable to the economic situation in these countries.

Germans account for half of all the foreign tourists in Switzerland and their numbers fell by more than 12 per cent between January and May compared with the same period last year.

"You'd imagine that because of the terror attacks, there would be less visitors from the States," said Grindelwald tourism director, Joe Luggen. "But the big slump is from Germany and that's affecting the whole industry."

Among other factors, German tourists are being deterred by the strength of the Swiss franc.

Rise in business travel

While the leisure market appears to be holding steady, Switzerland Tourism has detected a notable increase in business travel.

A growing number of conference organisers have chosen to hold congresses here, perceiving Switzerland to be a safer bet than other locations.

The upbeat assessment comes at the end of an uncertain period for the Swiss tourism industry, which had braced itself for the worst following the September 11 terrorist attacks and the economic downturn.

With US and Japanese visitors accounting for 5.4 per cent and 2.4 per cent of the overall market, Switzerland Tourism feared a 40 per cent drop in business from these countries at the beginning of the year.

Americans start to return

In fact the number of US visitors fell by around 30 per cent, and for May was 22 per cent down on last year. The figures are expected to continue improving.

"We're pleasantly surprised that the Americans are still coming," Luggen told swissinfo. "Many tell me that they feel safer in Switzerland than travelling around the US."

The month of May also saw a 27 per cent drop in the number of overnight stays by Japanese visitors compared to last year.

The top destinations for American visitors are Lucerne in central Switzerland, Zermatt in canton Valais, followed by Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland, which is also extremely popular with the Japanese. As a result, these areas have been most affected by stay-at-home tourists.

To attract custom, Switzerland Tourism launched a worldwide campaign in March. Promotions included television programmes and advertising in New York buses and Grand Central Station.

Switzerland's tourism industry is worth SFr13 billion ($9 billion). Swiss tourists account for 44 per cent of the market.

US visitors recorded 1.8 million overnight stays in Switzerland in 2001, each spending on average SFr330 a day. Meanwhile, the Japanese recorded 829,000 overnight stays and spent on average SFr450 a day.

by Vincent Landon

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