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Swiss still vacationing abroad despite downturn

Discussing holiday plans

(Keystone)

The gloomy financial situation is not discouraging Swiss from going abroad for the Christmas holidays, the country's tour operators have reported.

The Maldives, the Caribbean and Egypt are still popular choices for winter sunseekers, despite the global economic crisis.

The most popular destinations would record growth in double-digit figures, said operator M-Travel Switzerland.

But not everyone is heading to far-off destinations. The Hungarian capital, Budapest, regarded as one of the world's most beautiful cities, is proving particularly popular among young men, the company said.

For Swiss choosing to stay at home, the most popular destination will be the southeastern canton of Graübunden, with its top ski resorts, followed by the Bernese Oberland and the southern canton of Valais.

"Slight hesitation"

Holidays abroad have been booked well in advance and travel companies are reporting few cancellations, although they said some "slight hesitation" was beginning to creep in.

The prospects for tourism inside Switzerland, while still relatively stable, are less rosy than last year.

"We know that bookings are quite good," said Edith Zweifel, a spokeswoman for Switzerland Tourism. She told swissinfo that snowfall across Europe has provided an incentive for people to hit the slopes but admitted the market would be "more quiet" than last year.

After three good seasons and despite an encouraging amount of bookings in the short term, the travel business will contract, economists said on Tuesday.

A report issued by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) and BAK Basel Economics forecast that the number of hotel nights in Switzerland would decline by 2.4 per cent between November 2008 and April 2009.

Switzerland Tourism also expects that the financial crisis will hit the tourism sector - but only in the second half of the season. Christmas business would be safe it said, adding that the market should hold. The decline will be most marked among guests from abroad.

Foreign tourists

Apart from the global financial crisis, the value of the euro - which has depreciated against the Swiss franc - has also affected hotels and resorts. But Switzerland Tourism said currency-related challenges had stabilised.

Two-thirds of all visitors to Switzerland come from the euro zone, including more than 29 per cent from Germany, contributing to a likely decrease of 4.0 per cent in foreign guests. Business from Russia remains relatively unaffected but overall, there will be a 3.0 per cent drop in the number of hotel nights for the coming year.

Hotel nights in canton Valais, in southwestern Switzerland, were expected to drop by 1.1 per cent while the market in the Bernese Oberland could decline by as much as 3.5 per cent.

The country's luxury hotels will host fewer corporate events and enjoy smaller profits over the next few years. The winter season should stay strong, the general manager of the industry association Swiss Deluxe Hotels told swissinfo earlier in December, but the summer could be a challenge.

Growth across the board will return only in 2011, at 1.3 per cent, economists predicted.

Switzerland's hoteliers experienced a record year from November 2007 to October 2008, when demand rose 4.5 per cent, approaching 37 million hotel nights.

swissinfo with agencies

Hotels

The Swiss hotel industry as a whole recorded a record 37 million overnight stays in the 12 months to the end of October – a 4.5% increase over the previous 12 months.

Some 42 per cent of hotel guests in Switzerland are Swiss. Germany holds the second-highest market share, at 29.1 per cent.

The average length of stay increased to 2.3 days, according to the association hotelleriesuisse. Overall, foreign visitors stayed longer than Swiss people.

Visitors have spent a combined five million nights in Swiss hotels since 1934.

Swiss hotels range from storied establishments in the resorts of Interlaken, Gstaad and St Moritz, to a "zero-star hotel" inside a former nuclear bunker in canton St Gallen.

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Bad conditions

Switzerland Tourism says that people are reluctant to cancel their holidays, mainly for family reasons.

Business around the New Year and school holidays is strong, and spokeswoman Edith Zweifel said that even in difficult economic circumstances, people would rather pay for a holiday than miss spending time with their families.

Two years ago, snow conditions in Switzerland were terrible but people who had booked vacations found other things to do, she said.

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