The Swiss capital, Bern, is aiming to attract more gay and lesbian visitors by highlighting its cultural gems and laid-back gay-friendly atmosphere.This content was published on April 26, 2006 - 18:50
The national tourist office recently held a symposium on how to increase its share in the international gay travel market, worth an estimated $65 billion (SFr83 billion) in the United States alone.
"Switzerland is the only country in the world where legalised [gay] partnerships came about as the result of a public vote. That is phenomenal! That should be on the front page of every gay newspaper," said Tom Roth, president of Community Marketing Inc., a gay tourism market research company based in San Francisco.
"Switzerland can communicate its gay-friendliness much better," he added. "It's such a motivator for gay and lesbian travellers considering a destination to see how that government treats its own citizens before they decide to spend any money there. We vote with our wallet."
Urs Eberhard, from Switzerland Tourism, is also aware of the importance of communication. "I don't think the challenge is to bring [gay] people to Bern – the challenge is more to make them aware that there is a Bern. But we have that challenge with each target group," he told swissinfo.
"We have all the ingredients that the gay and lesbian community is looking for – we have the tradition, the quality, a very tolerant population and a local gay and lesbian community that welcomes guests from abroad."
"Lounge of Switzerland"
Marc Steffen from Bern Tourism said their general target groups are senior citizens and the Dinks (double incomes no kids) – "and gays fall perfectly into both categories".
"We [in Bern] want to be an alternative for gay and lesbian guests – whether they want a bit more peace and quiet or whether they are coming specifically for a festival," he told swissinfo.
"Culture is very big here with the recently opened Paul Klee Centre and the Queersicht gay film festival."
He reckoned couples are probably more at home in Bern. "I always say we are the lounge of Switzerland. It's true that Bern is small, but everything is beautiful, a bit cosier – not so hectic."
Steffen added that the two cities complement each other very well. "Zurich and Bern are only an hour apart by train and many guests do both: spend the weekend out all night in Zurich and then come to Bern to relax."
Ultimately tourism is about generating money, and Bryan Gonzales, director of Aspen Gay Ski Week, gave a presentation on how to organise a successful gay and lesbian event.
"If a European country could organise an event like Aspen Gay Ski Week, it would immediately become the top destination for gays and lesbians in Europe," he said.
According to Roth's data, Switzerland is currently in seventh place on gay travellers' holiday lists behind – in order – Britain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.
Gonzales explained how in 2005 Aspen Gay Ski Week attracted at least 3,000 participants who spent an average of $2,500 over the week.
"Directly and indirectly we brought in $6.2 million in one week to the city of Aspen," he said, adding that the same thing could happen in Switzerland with the right marketing and direction.
"Once you convey to local businesses the economic impact this could bring to their town, they wake up."
Roth distilled his analysis into a handful of recommendations (for a more detailed look at Roth's research see "Gay travel in Switzerland – an expert's view" in Related Stories).
Switzerland, he said, must use simple, direct and diverse advertising to overcome various misconceptions, namely that it is expensive, cold and lacking cultural attractions.
Swiss tourism, Roth said, should be focusing on communicating the country's natural beauty, history, world-class outdoor amenities and transport.
Diverse advertising is important to address the various gay markets. "The old Switzerland of yodelling and the Alps is very different from the techno parade in Zurich."
In June 2005 Swiss voters approved a new law allowing homosexual couples to register their partnerships at registry offices.
As a result, gay couples are granted the same legal rights as married couples in the areas of pensions, inheritance and taxes. But they are not allowed to adopt children or have access to fertility treatment.
Zurich, Geneva, Lucerne, Zermatt and Engelberg are among the cities and resorts taking part in a gay and lesbian travel campaign by the national tourist office.
The Swiss gay scene centres on Zurich and Geneva, but Bern offers plenty of more laid-back attractions for gay tourists.
Bern hosts Switzerland's oldest gay and lesbian film festival, Queersicht, which attracts some 3,000 visitors. This year it takes place November 9-13.
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