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Swiss tourism upbeat after bad season

Switzerland's tourism industry is counting on the summer to make up for a poor winter season Schweiz Tourismus

The Swiss tourism industry says it is bouncing back after suffering a downturn in its fortunes in the wake of September 11 and the collapse of Swissair.

As the world’s largest tourism fair gets underway in the German capital Berlin this weekend, industry experts are forecasting an increase in visitor numbers over the summer following a depressing winter season.

Mauro Ghirardi, head of market research at Switzerland Tourism says that even though the overall number of visitors is expected to drop slightly this year, the prospects for the summer look very promising.

“Despite an expected drop in the overall visitor numbers of minus one per cent, we will see an increase of 1.6 per cent in the summer season,” he told swissinfo.

However, with visitor’s numbers down by more than eight per cent in January, Ghirardi expects the results of the overall winter season to be down on last year.

“As we are still coping with the effects of last year, the current winter season will be worse than the previous year. But we have to take into account that the year 2000/2001 was the best winter season ever recorded,” he said.

Lack of snow

Even though many Swiss skiing resorts suffered from a lack of snow this winter, Ghirardi does not think this will have a long-term impact on the Swiss skiing industry.

“We have a lot of visitors who come every year and I think it takes more than one bad winter for people to decide not to come here anymore,” he said

In October last year, hotel bookings were down 20 per cent following the terrorist attacks. But Hans Ruedi Huber of the Swiss Hotels Association insists the industry is now back on track.

“The drop in October bookings was an immediate consequence to the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington. We were actually expecting an overall loss of about 11 per cent. However, figures were only down eight per cent,” he said.

Overseas visitors

At the end of last year, tourists from North America and Asia proved the most reluctant to travel to Switzerland, with bookings down 50 and 36 per cent respectively.

However, Ghirardi believes the downward trend had already kicked in prior to September 11.

“The figures had already dropped in May when the Japanese recession had an impact on the travellers from Japan. Of course, this was exacerbated by September 11, but we have to keep in mind that most Japanese travel in summer and not winter,” he said.

Ghirardi says the travel industry has also been hit by a fall in the number of people travelling on business to Switzerland. He thinks this is mainly due to the increasing popularity of video and telephone conferences.

“Companies might have used the September 11 attacks as an excuse to cut back on business trips,” he added.

Even out

Despite the significant drop in overseas visitors last year, Eva Brechtbühl, a manager at Switzerland Tourism, said the decline was balanced by an increase in arrivals from European countries – and from Swiss holidaying at home.

“The number of tourists from neighbouring countries rose immediately, and people from Germany, France and Italy came to Switzerland to spend New Year or Christmas here. And another important factor was that the Swiss remained in Switzerland,” she said.

Brechtbühl is very excited about the prospects offered by the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) in Berlin and she is looking forward to launching Switzerland Tourism’s new summer mountain campaign.

“Now is the moment to talk positively about a destination, and we are looking forward to promoting the Swiss mountains all over the world,” she said.

“This fair is very important to us as it gives us the opportunity to show all the facets of our mountainous country. We want to show that a mountain holiday is not only about being on top of a mountain but also underneath or even inside it,” she said.

by Billi Bierling

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR