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Tourism with a conscience

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Reka runs its own holiday villages (Reka)

Founded in 1939 with the goal of making holidays available to those with limited means, Reka is today the second largest provider of holiday accommodation in Switzerland.

Unique in the world, the non-profit cooperative is an unusual partnership between Swiss employers associations, unions, and the tourist industry.

Born of the economic crisis of the 1930s, Reka combined the twin aims of boosting the flagging Swiss hotel industry and subsidizing family vacations for those who could not otherwise afford them.

Sixty-five years on, it is still subsidizing holidays for low-income families.

Today discounted “Reka checks” are offered as a fringe benefit by numerous employers, including seven of the ten largest Swiss corporations. Immensely popular, they are used by almost one-quarter of the Swiss population.

The coupons, which resemble Swiss banknotes, are mostly bought by employers, who sell them on to their employees at up to 20 per cent below face value.

A SFr1,000 ($797) check, for example, might be purchased by an employee for only SFr800, with the employer absorbing the difference.

Used as cash, they are accepted at numerous tourist locales, by Swiss Federal Railways, and sometimes even petrol stations, not to mention Reka’s own holiday lodgings.

Family holidays

Reka, the number one provider of family vacations in Switzerland, began constructing its own lodgings in the 1950s in response to the absence of suitable, affordable holiday accommodation for families.

More than holding its own and even expanding at a time when holiday apartment rentals in Switzerland are stagnating, Reka vacation properties operate today at a 70 to 90 per cent capacity rate, earning it over SFr36 million in rental income in 2003.

Located throughout Switzerland, but also in Europe, including France, Italy, Spain, and Croatia, Reka holiday lodgings include apartments and farms in addition to its villages and houses.

In the works is a Reka cheque card and an expansion of Reka’s internet presence. “Over 40 per cent of our Switzerland bookings are made over the Internet,” Roland Lymann, Reka’s deputy director, told swissinfo.

“These are young people with children. About 80 per cent of our families have access to the internet either at home or through work.”

In 2003, firms that offered Reka checks contributed an estimated SFr73 million toward subsidised vacations. Reka itself contributed a further 11 million in subsidies.

Further underlining its commitment to social goals is the presence of union representation on the company board.

Social value

As Reka checks have no expiry date, numerous families hold onto their pre-paid coupons until their next holiday. These uncashed checks are interest bearing, with the profit channelled into an “in-between capital investment fund” that in 2003 held an estimated SFr270 million.

Managed by a trust, this fund does not belong to Reka, but rather is used to support Reka’s social goals. In the past year about 1,000 families and single parents with children have received SFr2.5 million in holiday subsidies from the fund.

Reka’s formula of tourism with a social conscience has generated tremendous interest abroad.

“We cannot be measured by commercial criteria alone,” said Lymann, “Reka’s social impact and overall economic effects are also very important.”

swissinfo, Alexander Künzle (translation: Kathleen Aeschlimann)

Key facts

Reka, a unique cooperative of employers, unions, and the tourist industry, has been offering subsidised holidays to low income families for over 60 years.
Over 500,000 Swiss have access to subsidised “Reka checks” through their employers.
Employees purchase these discounted coupons as a means of saving for holidays.
Reka checks cannot be exchanged for cash.

end of infobox


(Adapted from German by Kathleen Peters), swissinfo.ch


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