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Lugano puts veil over Christian sites

The church of St Abbondio is one site Arabs will not see in the brochure. Lugano Tourism

Tourism officials in Lugano have published a brochure in Arabic omitting references to aspects of European life which could offend Muslims.

This content was published on February 27, 2005 - 16:50

But the concern is not shared by other Swiss cities or the national tourist office which market Switzerland in Arab countries.

A quick comparison of the Italian, French or German versions of the Lugano tourist board’s brochure with the Arabic-language text reveals some small but highly significant differences.

In the Arabic brochure, many of Lugano’s religious, historical and cultural treasures are conspicuous by their absence.

Instead of the Cathedral of St Lawrence, and the churches of Santa Maria degli Angeli and San Rocco, there are pictures of the casino, smart shops in the Via Nassa and luxury hotels.

Even the local variety of salami (made from pork, of course) has been deleted: instead, the brochure features traditional cheeses from the Italian-speaking region.

As far as the staff at the Lugano tourist office are concerned, this was a purely "strategic" decision; the brochure in question is merely "a tool for opening up new markets".

"Our brochure would not have been distributed in the Gulf States if we had included pictures of local religious buildings," commented tourist director Marco Sorgesa.

It should, however, be pointed out that Arabic is not spoken exclusively by Muslims: a number of Christian and Jewish communities also have Arabic as their mother tongue.

Controversial

The brochure caused a good deal of controversy in the run-up to Christmas 2004, and was even debated by the city council.

"Disowning religious symbols and other aspects of our society is not a way of showing respect," observed Lugano councillor Simonetta Perucchi Borsa.

And neither were representatives of the Muslim community favourably impressed by the tourist office policy.

"Islam recognises the existence of Catholicism, and Arabs expect to find churches in Europe," stated Hassan El Araby, spokesman for the Islamic community in Ticino.

A survey of Swiss tourist offices by swissinfo revealed that no Swiss town or city has an Arabic version of its website.

The majority present material only in the local language and in English; some also publish in Switzerland’s other national languages as well as Spanish or Japanese. The most polyglot is the Lucerne tourist office, whose website also boasts Russian, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean.

As far as printed material is concerned, only Geneva offers Arab tourists a brochure in their own language. A comparison of this publication with the French and English versions reveals no discrepancies.

The cover picture is of the city’s cathedral, St Peter’s, where in the first half of the 16th century Calvin preached the doctrines of the Reformation.

There is also a photograph inside of the Reformers’ Wall, with statues of the four "fathers" of the Protestant Reformation: Farel, Calvin, De Beze and Knox.

In fact, the photograph is much larger in the Arabic version than in the French or English-language brochures.

Alcohol allowed

And even though Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, the national tourist office, Switzerland Tourism, includes pictures in its Arabic-language brochures showing that drinking alcohol is quite popular among the Swiss.

One depicts two young women sitting on the terrace of a typical "grotto" above Lake Maggiore, drinking to each other’s health with glasses of red wine.

There is also a healthy sprinkling of pictures of churches in the Switzerland Tourism brochure, proving that the national tourist office does not share Lugano Tourism's fear of offending Arab sensibilities.

swissinfo, Nenad Stojanovic in Lugano

Key facts

In 2003, spending by foreign tourists contributed SFr12.6 billion to the Swiss economy, 3% of gross national product.
In the same year, 28.6 million visitors spent a night in Switzerland; but no Arab country accounted for more than 100,000 overnight stays.
Of the 2.4 million overnight stays recorded in Ticino, 1.1 million were by foreign visitors.

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In brief

A Lugano Tourism brochure targeting the Arab market has caused controversy because it omits aspects of Swiss life, such as churches or food products made with pork, which could offend Muslim sensitivities.

However, promotional material produced by other Swiss cities make no attempt to gloss over Christian sites.

For example, the national tourist office and the city of Geneva produce brochures in Arabic featuring churches and other religious sites.

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