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Swiss tourism comes out of the closet

Zermatt is now flying the gay and lesbian colours

The Swiss national tourist office has begun targeting gay and lesbian travellers with a new campaign titled “It’s Only Natural”, aimed at the British and American markets.

Switzerland Tourism says it is setting its sights on this group because of their high disposable income.

“The potential is great,” says Oliver Kerstholt of Switzerland Tourism. “Gay travellers usually have a high disposable income since they don’t have families to support.”

“Without kids, they can travel at any time of the year because they aren’t tied to travelling during school holidays,” Kerstholt adds, “and they are usually people who are willing to pay for what they want.”

A brochure, It’s Only Natural, was launched last year in Britain, and included listings for Zurich, Geneva, Lucerne and the mountain resorts of Engelberg and Zermatt.

The brochure is being updated this year to include Bern, the Lake Geneva region and Davos, and will be marketed in the United States as well.

While many Swiss cities have thriving gay and lesbian scenes, eyebrows have been raised about the inclusion of alpine resorts.

Gay friendly?

“They aren’t gay friendly,” Moël Volken of Swiss gay organisation, Pink Cross, told swissinfo.

“I don’t know any place, be it a bar, restaurant or café which I could recommend to anybody, either in Zermatt, St Moritz or Gstaad.”

“Engelberg hosts a gay and lesbian ski week in January, but who takes vacation in January?” Volken says.

“I think people come here first and foremost to be in the mountains,” counters Daniel Luggen of the Zermatt tourist office.

“They want to be outdoors, eat good food, and I don’t think they feel the need to go to [gay] clubs, so I think Zermatt’s inclusion is justified.”

Zermatt’s most prominent gay resident, Urs Biner, agrees with Luggen, but is in principle against marketing campaigns targeting specific groups.

Village life

“Zermatt is a village, and what you have in a city, you are not going to look for in a village, and it wouldn’t work here either,” says Biner, who owns and runs the popular Chez Heini restaurant.

During the busy ski season, the restaurant is usually packed in the evening with holidaymakers – mostly families and middle aged, heterosexual, couples.

They come for the lamb specialities and to watch Biner, who is also a recording artist, perform some of his pop songs. They do not come because he is gay.

“Why should we create ghettos for certain kinds of people? Whether rich or poor, famous, black or white, gay and lesbian, or even heterosexuals for that matter?” he asks.

“Zermatt is open for anyone who enjoys being in the outdoors and being among people.”

Luggen says his office is working together with Zurich and Geneva to put together gay and lesbian holiday packages combining city stays with visits to the resort.

Gay Bern

The tourism campaign benefits smaller cities like Lucerne and Bern which have thriving gay scenes but up until now have been overshadowed by Zurich and Geneva.

Bern resident Claudia Lozano says anybody visiting Bern should first take in the old town because it is a Unesco World Heritage Site, but also because it has “lots of gay bars and restaurants”.

Lozano is one of the organisers of lesbian events and parties at the “Frauenraum” (women’s space), part of Bern’s alternative Reithalle centre.

She says Bern is also worth a visit in summer when you can swim in the river Aare, and sunbathe on the riverside at the gay and lesbian friendly Lorrainebad open-air pool.

Queer cinema

Bern also hosts Switzerland’s largest gay and lesbian film festival, “Queersicht”.

Held over four days in mid-November, the festival screens films at a half dozen cinemas around town, and hosts side events at locales such as the Frauenraum.

“If you want nightlife and parties, you will find what you are looking for in Swiss cities,” sums up Steven Hayes, a Zurich resident on holiday in Zermatt.

“There is not much on offer for gays in the mountains, but that does not matter,” Hayes adds.

“If I want to party, I stay in the city, if I want to relax and enjoy nature, I go to the mountains.”

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Zermatt

The following cities and resorts are included in the Switzerland Tourism gay and lesbian brochure:
Zurich, Geneva, Lucerne, Bern, the Lake Geneva region, Zermatt, Engelberg and Davos.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR