Switzerland is fast becoming a favourite destination for Russians, with Geneva and Zurich among the most popular places for a visit.This content was published on March 27, 2006 - 09:49
Wealthy Russians are renowned for their luxurious tastes when at Swiss resorts, but low-budget tourists are also increasingly attracted to the country.
The common perception of Russians on holiday in Switzerland is that they bring a lot of money and glamour.
"Roubles and Russian jets at the Top of the World" was the headline of a newspaper article on the number of Russians visiting the ski resort of St Moritz over Christmas.
It reported that over the holiday period, 52 private Russian jets landed at the resort, carrying 303 passengers - 65 per cent up on the previous year. With 10,000 overnight stays in January alone, the Russians are now in fourth place in terms of visits behind the Swiss, Germans and Italians.
Geneva also has plenty of experience of Russians' penchant for the good things in life.
"These clients hardly look at the price of hotel rooms or suites. Only the best is good enough," said Katia Toporkova, who looks after the Russian market for Geneva Tourism.
Thermal baths, spa and beauty facilities are very much in demand, she said.
From Russia with love
The increasing number of Russian visitors has been welcomed by Switzerland Tourism, the national marketing organisation.
"The development of the Russian market is very positive for us," said the organisation's Federico Sommaruga.
"With 300,000 overnight stays, the Russians are in the top ten for Switzerland Tourism and one of its five strategic developing markets, along with China, Korea, India and the Gulf States."
Switzerland Tourism has had an agency in the Russian capital, Moscow, since 1996. And at the city's giant MITT tourism fair in January, Switzerland had more than 100 exhibitors, including representatives of hotels and clinics.
For many Russians a trip to Switzerland is a question of prestige, according to Maria Makarova, Switzerland Tourism's marketing manager in Moscow.
People are generally attracted by the country's image of wealth, security and quality, she said.
For her part, journalist Galina Stolyarova, from the English-language St Petersburg Times, said that most Russians see Switzerland as the ultimate luxury destination.
"The word Switzerland conjures up images of gold watches, snobbish banks, high-class ski resorts and fur coats," she told swissinfo.
But Stolyarova criticised the fact that most advertising about Switzerland in Russia seemed to be aimed at the super-rich rather than the general population.
"In Leukerbad, for example, I saw wonderful two- and three-star hotels," she said.
Switzerland Tourism rejects this criticism. "There are offers for all price segments in the Russian market," said Sommaruga.
This is backed up by Fritz Meyer, managing director of Incotrade, the biggest tour operator for Russian group holidays, who says more modest budgets are covered.
Incotrade offers a six-night Swiss Classic Bus Trip staying in four-star hotels from SFr610 ($467).
Meyer argues that reports of high-spending Russians give only one side of the story. "There are many Russians who come here on holidays with a daily budget of SFr60 to SFr70."
The same applies to the alleged obnoxious and arrogant behaviour of Russians on holiday in Switzerland. "I've only had two complaints in ten years," Meyer said.
swissinfo, Gerhard Lob
Annual number of overnight stays by Russians in Switzerland: 300,000
Russians as a percentage of foreign overnight stays: 2.5 %
Average spend of Russian tourists per person per day (2004): SFr400
Average spend of other Europeans per person per day: SFr150 – 200
Russian tourism in Switzerland has a long history. The Russian grand dukes and the tsars' families were among the first wave of tourists to alpine resorts.
With the emergence of an affluent middle-class and super-rich class after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, tourism to Switzerland regained in popularity.
Geneva is the top city destination for Russians, ahead of Zurich, mainly because Russians have a stronger affinity with French-speaking culture. Among the favourite winter sports destinations are Zermatt, St Moritz and Crans-Montana.
The airline Swiss operates two daily flights from Moscow to Zurich and back, and one to Geneva. Aeroflot also operates daily flights to the two cities.