Every time the world focuses on the Olympic Games, nations pull out all the stops to improve their visibility and garner positive images for themselves. Switzerland is no different, but its CHF6 million ($6.2 million) guest centre has some questioning – and defending – the cost.
Switzerland is sending its largest delegation of the past 20 years – some 109 athletes – to the Olympic Games in Brazil in August. The national committee Swiss Olympic hopes to secure at least five medals, upping the stakes from its London 2012 Games haul of four medals (two gold and two silver).
The country also will showcase another House of Switzerland, the official Swiss guest centre at the Olympic Games. The tradition dates back to 1998, when the House of Switzerland celebrated its inaugural event at the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.
Hubs of promotion and diplomacy
The guest centres are managed by Presence Switzerland, part of the Swiss foreign ministry, which partners with Swiss Tourism and the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent body.
They provide a meeting point and social hub for the Swiss Olympic team, its sponsors and partners, but the venues also are used for receptions, media conferences, client events and medal celebrations. Visitors can watch the Olympic competitions live on big screens.
Asked about the investment, Nicolas Bideau, head of Presence Switzerland, said Switzerland is investing CHF6 million in a pavilion in Rio that will be dismantled after a month, but the money will be well spent.
"It's a perfect opportunity to communicate messages," he told Swiss public television SRF for a report on Saturday, adding that the aim of the elaborate presentations is to create sympathy for Switzerland. "The Brazilians do not know us really, and it is very important for me that they perceive us as friendly and open."
Others questioned the expense of such short-term advertising.
"It is not possible to maintain the attention over the years between the Olympic Games," said Peter Fischer, an assistant professor at the University of St. Gallen’s Institute for Marketing.
Fischer recommended the guest centre should be reused at more diverse offerings of major sporting and cultural events, to make the costs more sustainable.
Presence Switzerland, which is in charge of promoting Switzerland’s image abroad, says it showcases Switzerland’s participation in major world events, including at universal expositions and the Olympic Games.