Japanese tourists are staying away from Switzerland because of the strong franc and heading for the countries of the eurozone.
The strength of the franc has become a handicap according to Japanese tour operators, who note that before September 11, Switzerland was easier to sell.
Japanese tourists, especially the elderly, had no qualms about spending big to admire the Swiss Alps. However, the situation has completely changed, and Switzerland is having to work hard to sell itself as a tourist destination.
Before September 11, the Swiss franc traded at 68.9 yen. Today, the same franc costs 85 yen.
"Only rich Japanese retirees can afford to visit Switzerland," says a manager at Miki Tourist, one of Japan's main tourist agencies. "Younger people aren't interested."
Japan has gone through 11 straight years of recession and has seen a strong increase in unemployment. The yen has also lost ground against other currencies and the Japanese have cut their spending.
Japanese favouring Italy
For the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB), Switzerland's position outside the eurozone makes the country less attractive for visitors. The most popular destination for Japanese tourists now is Italy.
"Italy has become popular because it chose the euro as its currency," a JTB director told swissinfo. "The euro has also increased less in value than the franc against the yen."
For an agency like the JTB, the cost of a bed for the night in Milan is only 5,000 yen (SFr75), while the same bed costs at least 6,500 yen in Geneva or Zurich - an increase of 30 per cent.
Since September 11, the Japanese have also travelled less. The so-called Golden Week, when a number of public holidays fall on consecutive days, promises to be no different.
Between April 29 and May 5, fewer Japanese will be heading to Europe. Numbers are expected to drop three to five per cent, according to the JTB.
Many of these visitors - up to 30 per cent - are also expected to spend less while travelling. "It's very bad news for jewellers and watch retailers in places like Lucerne and Interlaken," says JTB management.