Switzerland's tourism industry has put the country on show at the "Switzerland Travel Mart" (STM) trade fair in Thun. After an excellent year in 2000, tourism officials are convinced that Switzerland is better placed than ever to woo visitors.This content was published on April 30, 2001 - 16:56
The Swiss industry has every reason to be optimistic. Following a 5.5 per cent increase in overnight stays in 2000, there were more foreign tour operators than ever at this year's STM, hoping to sign lucrative deals.
"We have visitors from 55 countries who came here to get as much information as they can about the country and to buy Switzerland as a tourism and travel product," said Jürg Schmid, the president of Switzerland Tourism, the country's main marketing organisation.
In the past couple of years, Switzerland Tourism has successfully used the Internet as a sales and marketing platform and to help shed the country's conservative image.
Switzerland Tourism has also done well to convince foreigners that a holiday in Switzerland doesn't necessarily have to be expensive, as its family promotion, "Make way for kids", has shown.
The message has hit home for tourists from the United States, who generally find Western Europe a bargain due to the strength of the dollar. Last year Switzerland registered a 16 per cent increase in overnight stays by Americans.
Americans were also attracted to Europe in 2000 because the Vatican declared it a holy year and because of the staging of the famous passion play in the German town of Oberammergau - held only every 10 years.
However, Switzerland is proving more of an attraction to Americans than some of its European neighbours, according to Urs Eberhart, head of Switzerland Tourism's North America branch. "If I compare our growth with that of our competition, then we are doing slightly better.
"The increase has continued in the first three months of this year, and in March alone, was seven per cent higher," he added.
He said there are worries, though, that the headlines over the foot and mouth crisis in Britain could lead to a slowdown, at least for European tours starting in Britain.
For the first time, tour operators from Vietnam and Paraguay were present at the STM. Even though tourists from a handful of countries make up nearly 90 per cent of all visitors to Switzerland, tourists from emerging markets, particularly India and China, are expected to become increasingly important for Switzerland.
The Indian government's decision to relax currency laws has made it easier for Indians to see for themselves the alpine landscapes portrayed in many Indian films. For Chinese, though, red tape still makes a trip to Switzerland nearly impossible for the country's growing ranks of wealthier citizens.
"Marketing is not our first priority," said Wenjia Zhang, Switzerland Tourism's representative in Beijing. Her office is focusing its efforts on lobbying the government to win "free destination" status for Switzerland, which would mean Chinese tourists would no longer be required to undergo the difficult visa application process.
And since Switzerland is not party to the European Union's Schengen border treaty, a visa for a Schengen member state is much more attractive than one for Switzerland since it gives Chinese tourists access to several countries at once.
Zhang expects that it will take another two or three years to win over the Chinese authorities to Switzerland's cause. The Chinese themselves, she said, have long been convinced of Switzerland's appeal.
"They think that Switzerland is a paradise."
by Dale Bechtel
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