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April brings ray of hope to hotels

The hotel industry is hoping to give tourists a warmer welcome

(Keystone)

After a disappointing start to the year, the Swiss hotel industry recorded its first positive result in April, with the number of overnight stays up 2.3 per cent compared with the same period last year.

But business is still sluggish, with demand expected to dip 3.2 per cent this summer.

According to figures released on Monday by the Federal Office of Statistics, Swiss and European clients generated the most overnight stays for hotels across Switzerland in April.

Business during the first quarter of 2003 was down by 2.3 per cent on the same period last year, with the global economic downturn, the war in Iraq and the outbreak of the Sars virus all playing a part.

The number of tourists from the Middle East plummeted 46 per cent, Hong Kong 29 per cent and China 24 per cent during the first three months of this year.

Cool summer

During a press conference on Monday, the Hotel Industry Association warned of a difficult summer ahead.

"The forecast for the summer is not promising because the number of tourists from Germany is expected to drop," Christian Rey, the president of the Association, told swissinfo.

"And although the euro is holding steady, Germans are responding to the economic crisis that has beset their country," he explained.

However, Rey believes there is a silver lining for the industry.

"We've reached the bottom of the downward cycle."

Winter boost

Business is expected to pick up at the end of this year, however, as more foreign tourists spend their winter holidays in Switzerland.

"We have great hopes for the coming winter," Rey said. "We're hoping to see increased numbers of tourists from Russia and Eastern Europe."

Alpine resorts are forecast to be busy, though Switzerland's bigger cities are likely to see fewer tourists.

Thanks to a fall in the value of the Swiss franc against the euro, dollar and pound sterling, combined with an anticipated upturn in the global economy, the number of overnight stays is projected to grow by 1.3 per cent.

Similar growth rates are expected next year, which should be sustained through to 2005, says the Association.

Chilly welcome

During a press conference on Monday, the Association also unveiled a new campaign to improve the quality of service and the training of hotel staff in a bid to lure visitors back.

"We have a lot to do in this area," said Rey, adding that Switzerland was often criticised for the "poor" welcome it gave tourists.

The Association also hopes that a special VAT rate of 3.6 per cent for hotels will be permanently enshrined in the government's economic policy.

"It's got to be included there once and for all," Rey said.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss hotel industry recorded its first positive result of the year in April.

The number of overnight stays rose by 2.3 per cent compared with the same period last year.

But industry officials warn that demand will dip 3.2 per cent in the coming months.

Business is expected to pick up at the end of 2003, with the number of overnight stays projected to rise by 1.3 per cent.

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