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Russian tourists keep Swiss tills ringing

An increasing number of Russian tourists descend on Swiss ski resorts Keystone

St Moritz, Zermatt, Verbier and Crans Montana are reaping the benefits of an influx of wealthy Russians, tiding them over the slack January period.

While Russian tourists still account for only a tiny percentage of all visitors, they make up an increasingly important market for tourism operators.

Aside from the money they fork out on hotels and skiing, Russians are renowned for extravagant spending on luxury items, and they are not shy of Swiss prices.

Russians really came to the attention of Switzerland Tourism in 2002, when the number of visitors shot up by ten per cent.

Last year, numbers rose a respectable 3.2 per cent, which means that Russians now account for 1.3 per cent of overseas tourists visiting Switzerland, or 240,000 overnight stays in 2003.

Daniela Bär of Switzerland Tourism says her organisation is taking Russia very seriously indeed.

“For the winter season, we printed 150,000 brochures for Russia, and these have been placed in newspapers and magazines in that country as well as in tourist offices and travel agents.”

Bär has also turned to the web to market Switzerland. “We are also advertising on four of the most important Russian internet platforms.”

Five-star treatment

The Russians’ favourite Swiss destinations are Zermatt and St Moritz, closely followed by Crans Montana and Verbier, and they tend to stay in four- and five-star hotels, according to the Zermatt tourist office.

Some Swiss businesses, such as the ski schools in St Moritz and Verbier, have employed Russian-speaking staff to make sure their guests are happy.

The five-star Hotel Ambassador in Crans Montana has about seven Russian-speaking staff. Between January 2 and 10, 40 per cent of the guests were Russian.

The Russian Christmas falls on January 7.

But most hotels take the view that this is unnecessary because more and more guests from eastern Europe tend to speak English nowadays.

Smiling shopkeepers

Unlike many tourists, who are content to buy the hotels’ slippers and bathrobe, Russians fill their suitcases with designer labels and luxury items.

“Shopkeepers start smiling when the Russians arrive,” says Madeleine Savioz, a marketing manager in Verbier.

“They normally travel in groups of six or more,” says Claudio Duschletta, spokesman for St Moritz tourism. “And most come from Moscow or St Petersburg.”

“They raid the boutiques whenever they are in town because the value added tax on these goods in Moscow can be as high as 30 per cent,” explained Cédric Noujaim of Inexco, a tour operator which specialises in holidays for Russian visitors.

“Russians choose their holiday destinations based on image,” says Daniela Bär of Switzerland Tourism. They like world-renowned destinations, and they like to go to places where other rich people take their holidays.”

swissinfo with agencies

The number of Russian tourists in Switzerland increased by 10% in 2002 and by 3.2% last year.
In 2003 Russian tourists accounted for 1.3% of all foreign tourists in Switzerland.
The most popular ski resorts for Russians are Zermatt, St Moritz, Crans Montana and Verbier.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR