‘Switzerland has a very positive image in Russia’
The House of Switzerland is a “home from home” for Swiss in Sochi as well as a CHF3 million ($3.3 million) marketing tool, the head of the government office responsible for Switzerland’s image abroad tells swissinfo.ch.
Nicolas Bideau, head of Presence Switzerland, will be in the Russian resort for the entire Olympic Games, which run from February 7-23.
Although the headlines in the run-up to the most expensive Olympics in history have been dominated by human rights protests and security concerns, Bideau explains in a written interview what Russians think of Switzerland – and where the national brand could still be improved.
swissinfo.ch: What is the aim of the House of Switzerland?
Nicolas Bideau: First of all, the House of Switzerland Russia 2014 serves as main meeting point and “home from home” for Swiss athletes and fans. It creates a relaxing atmosphere for the athletes and thus supports the sporting targets of Swiss Olympic.
The second aim is to promote Switzerland in all its diversity along with its economic, political, touristic, cultural and scientific strengths.
swissinfo.ch: How many visitors do you expect? Is the focus on attracting tourists or investors – or both?
N.B.: The organisers of the Olympic Games expect a total of 1.5 million visitors. As we will be located right at the main entrance with an ambitiously designed building, practically every visitor of a competition or ceremony in the Olympic Park will see the House of Switzerland. We hope to attract around 40,000 people into the House.
First and foremost it serves as a showcase of Switzerland’s strengths such as its innovation, scientific research, education or tourism. We have developed different exhibitions and activities aimed at enhancing Switzerland’s image and visibility abroad among visitors of the Olympic Games as well as opinion leaders.
Secondly, the House of Switzerland is a public diplomacy platform where opinion leaders from the worlds of politics, science, economy, culture, sport as well as tourism can meet and foster their relationships. Swiss President Didier Burkhalter will hold a reception to mark the 200th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch: Does Switzerland’s image need changing in Russia? How do you think Russians see Switzerland?
N.B.: Presence Switzerland analysed Switzerland’s image in Russia and saw that Switzerland has in general a very positive image in Russia, being ranked number five in the Nations Brand Index in 2011. For Russian citizens, Switzerland is synonymous with high-quality products (watches, pharmaceuticals, banking, chocolate), excellent work-life-balance, high standard of living as well as a highly regarded travel destination. These positive clichés act as a great starting point to then present less well-known aspects of our country, for instance our capacity for innovation.
The innovative side of Switzerland sees room for improvement in Russia. The analysis of Switzerland’s image also showed that Switzerland is not yet well recognised for its nature and environmental initiatives.
swissinfo.ch: The tradition of the House of Switzerland goes back to 1998. What is new this year?
N.B.: For the very first time since 1998, the House of Switzerland is established in the Olympic Park and thus in close walking distance to the main sport and ceremony facilities.
Another first is the House’s concept itself. Instead of building a Swiss showcase only for a specific event, we developed the so-called “Swiss Mobile House”, a mobile wooden construction that can be assembled and disassembled within a short time and transported to the next place of action.
It is possible to use the same construction for different projects abroad. After Sochi, part of the construction will travel to Milan where it will be used ahead of the Expo 2015 for a temporary exhibition. The entire building will then be reassembled during the European Athletics Championships in August 2014 in Zurich and we are planning a possible presence in Rio in 2016 for the Summer Olympic Games.
swissinfo.ch: What have been/are the biggest challenges in Sochi?
N.B.: Taking part in a major international event is always a challenge on its own, wherever it is. It was of course logistically easier to be in London in 2012 than in Sochi, which is not exactly in our direct neighbourhood. The decision to use our own house has forced us to find unique solutions to guarantee its delivery. But it was the right decision, when you compare it with the potential costs of renting.
The language and some different cultural approaches have challenged us as well, but that happens in all countries.
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