Switzerland's tourist industry is heading into the winter season flush with confidence, featuring a bare-chested ski instructor in its new marketing campaign.
However, growth forecasts for ski regions lag far behind those for Switzerland's cities, which have benefited most from the booming global economy and popularity of low-cost flights.
BAK Basel Economics is forecasting a 3.1 per cent increase in the number of nights spent in Swiss hotels for the upcoming winter season. It said if the prediction proves correct, Switzerland would break the 16 million mark for the first time.
There is reason for optimism. Despite poor weather this past summer, hotel stays still rose by 3.8 per cent.
But this was due in large part to 6.2 per cent growth in cities including Zurich, Geneva and Basel, where weather is less of a factor than it is in mountain regions, which saw a 2.1 per cent increase.
BAK said the strength of the global economy and the weak franc compared with the euro were the main reasons visitors were travelling to Switzerland in ever greater numbers. And cities were also benefiting from the arrival on the scene of budget airlines.
"Low-cost flights have created a new segment of traveller who visits Swiss cities, which wasn't the case a few years ago," BAK's Richard Kämpf told swissinfo.
"They are responsible for around one-third of the overnight stays [in cities], in my estimation."
An additional 500,000 hotel nights in city accommodation are expected to be generated next year when Switzerland co-hosts Euro 2008, the European Football Championships, along with Austria.
Kämpf said even though mountain resorts saw visitor numbers plummet last winter due to a lack of snow, they would also benefit from the robust global economic conditions, seeing a 2.4 per cent increase during the 2007-2008 ski season.
The country's national marketing body, Switzerland Tourism, acknowledges that more work has to be done to make alpine regions more attractive.
It launched its winter campaign on Wednesday featuring a topless male ski instructor. But Switzerland Tourism director, Jürg Schmid, admitted that the offer in ski resorts is often far from sexy.
Question of quality
"We see one of the challenges in the mid-range hotels - the two and three star hotels - where quality improvements haven't progressed as much as they have in the four- and five-star category," Schmid said.
The ski industry itself is aware it must do more on several fronts.
At a meeting of the nation's ski lift association last week, officials recognised climate change as one of the greatest challenges facing the sector, yet only half of all companies had included the impact of global warming in future planning strategies.
The resorts that have taken action are pumping tens of millions of francs into artificial snow- making facilities.
Gieri Spescha, spokesman for canton Graubünden - Switzerland's largest tourist region, told swissinfo large investments have also been made over the past few years in ski lift infrastructure in general and hotels. He said this would soon begin to bear fruit.
Foreign investors are also confident about the growth potential of the tourist industry in the Swiss Alps.
Egypt's Orascom Group is constructing a multi-hotel resort with 800 rooms in the town of Andermatt, and a Kuwaiti real estate company announced last week it was ready to spend more than SFr100 million ($86 million) to finance the building of a spa and five-star hotel in the mid-size resort of Adelboden in the Bernese Alps.
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Zurich
Nights spent in hotels:
Summer 2007 +3.8%
Forecast for winter 2007-08 +3.1%
Forecast for the next 12 months: +4%
Win a Swiss ski instructor
A competition is part of the international campaign. Up for grabs is a weeklong ski holiday, including private ski instruction.
Anyone taking part votes for the ski instructor shown on the Switzerland Tourism website they consider the most attractive.
Each week, the candidates receiving the fewest votes are dropped from the list until only the "best-looking ski instructor" remains.
There will be a draw to choose the winner of the ski package.
In compliance with the JTI standards