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Swiss tourism feels effects of September 11 attacks

Foreign visitors are booking fewer nights in Swiss hotels Keystone Archive

A month after the terrorist attacks in the United States, the effects are being felt across the world, from fluctuations in global stock markets to a decrease in international travel. In Switzerland, hotels, tour operators and airlines have all been affected by the international events.

“We asked Zurich hotels and they said they had a decrease of 20 per cent in overnight stays [in September],” Hans Ruedi Huber of the Swiss Hotels Association told swissinfo. “We need to watch this and see how it develops across Switzerland.”

In reaction to the dip in visitor figures, Switzerland Tourism, an independent body part-funded by the government and part by tourism partners, plans to inject SFr5 million into a revamped winter campaign. The programme is aimed at encouraging travellers from neighbouring European countries to spend their winter holidays in Switzerland.

About 35 per cent of foreign visitors come to Switzerland by plane, whereas the remainder travel overland.

Worst summer in four years

But even before the September 11 attacks, Switzerland was experiencing its worst summer season in four years.

The Federal Office of Statistics revealed its tourism figures for June-August last week and they show that overnight stays in Swiss hotels have decreased for the first time since 1996.

The office cites a number of reasons for the poor season, including the global economic slowdown, bad weather in June and July and fluctuating exchange rates.

“We had a total of 10.8 million overnight stays, which is 2.1 per cent less than last year,” says Mark Lewis of the Federal Statistics Office. “It’s hard to put this into a loss in Swiss francs because it’s not only the price tourists pay for the rooms, but what they spend on souvenirs and other services.”

Poor results compounded

The devastating terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, and the fall of Switzerland’s national carrier, Swissair, have compounded the poor summer results.

Eva Brechtbühl from Switzerland Tourism believes the attacks are the most important factor when it comes to explaining the gloomy tourist outlook for September.

She says the attacks have put people off flying and that potential tourists are afraid of further terrorist action.

Added to this is Tuesday’s statement from the US State Department advising US citizens to avoid air travel when possible. This, Brechtbühl says, means that air traffic into Europe “has been cut dramatically.”

Loss of Swissair

To add insult to injury, Switzerland’s prized national carrier, Swissair, filed for bankruptcy protection last week as a result of spiralling debts, a failed expansion strategy and a drop in airline sales.

Huber from the Swiss Hotels Association says the loss of Swissair poses a medium and long-term threat to the Swiss tourist industry, because it has lost a “large global communications marketing network and air transport capacity.”

In the current climate and given the uncertainty of events in and around Afghanistan, analysts predict a 30 to 50 per cent drop in intercontinental travel in the near future. For Switzerland, this means that it will see a big reduction in the number of American and Asian visitors.

Although the drop in intercontinental travellers will leave a big dent in the SFr23 billion ($14 billion) Swiss tourist industry, Switzerland does have a well-established domestic and European market, which Switzerland Tourism hopes to exploit to recuperate any intercontinental losses.

Germans are Switzerland’s biggest tourist group, with visitors from Scandanavia, Belgium, France and Italy also playing an important role.

“We think people are now less inclined to fly to warmer destinations,” Brechtbühl told swissinfo. “They would rather stay a train ride away or be able to travel by car. So within Switzerland and in its neighbouring countries we are launching a huge new winter campaign at the end of November.”

by Sally Mules

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR