Swiss tourism celebrates boom year
The Swiss tourism industry is thanking the bullish global economy and weak franc for its 34.8 million overnight stays in 2006 – up 5.8 per cent on 2005.
The sector's best figures since 2000 comprise 18.3 million foreign stays, up 7.2 per cent, and 14.6 million Swiss stays, up four per cent.
"Naturally we are very happy – this shows that Swiss tourism is going in the right direction," Roger Waber from the national tourist office, Switzerland Tourism told swissinfo.
"There has been a lot of investment – in infrastructure, quality and what is on offer – and I think that is certainly one reason why the figures are so good. We now have to build on this."
The Federal Statistics Office revealed on Tuesday that the almost 35 million overnight stays correspond to 14.8 million arrivals, meaning the average tourist stays for 2.35 nights.
The sector appears to have got over concerns caused by the New York terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the respiratory epidemic, known as Sars, a year later.
Visitors from the United States have bounced back up the list, to third place. In 2003 they could only make it to fifth, coming behind the French and Dutch.
In 2006 American tourists spent 1.5 million nights in Switzerland, up 11 per cent on 2005.
The market share leaders remain unchanged however.
"The biggest market for Switzerland is Switzerland itself, then the Germans and then the British," Florence Porret from the tourism section of the Federal Statistics Office told swissinfo.
Waber points out that "the British haven't spent so many overnights in Switzerland since 1970".
There has also been a boom in tourists from the so-called BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China. The Swiss government announced in December it was focusing economically on these states.
The number of nights spent in Switzerland by Russian tourists rose by 18.7 per cent to 328,000. The figure for Indian tourists was 284,000 (up 14.2 per cent), for Chinese tourists 205,000 (up 19.5 per cent) and for Brazilian tourists up 24.4 per cent to 128,000.
"Switzerland is very popular among Russians, more and more of whom can afford to travel. Russians look for prestige and quality – both of which are attributes that Switzerland can offer," said Waber.
"The middle classes are also growing in China, along with an interest in travel, and Switzerland is considered in China as a sort of dream land with fresh air, beautiful scenery – a real fairytale world for the Chinese! A dream destination."
Unique selling point
Graubünden, Zurich, Valais, the Bernese Oberland and central Switzerland were host to almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of all overnight stays – more than 3.5 million for each region.
As for the most popular cities, which Porret described as "generally the winners this year", Zurich saw 2.4 million overnight stays, Geneva 1.8 million, Zermatt 1.2 million, Lucerne 860,000 and Basel 720,000.
Basel however witnessed an impressive growth of 21 per cent. Porret says this could be because easyJet flies to Basel and because the city, Switzerland's third most populous, has many fairs and cultural attractions.
Waber says the global economic situation – with a strong euro and weak franc – certainly plays a role in the increasing popularity of Swiss cities – "business tourism is also up" – but there is a lot more behind their success.
"In the cities one finds excellent cultural and gastronomic attractions and these can be combined with daytrips to the mountains – I think that's the USP [unique selling point] of Swiss cities."
Switzerland is one of the world's oldest tourist destinations. Twenty years ago, it was still among the top ten. Since then, tourism has stagnated somewhat, having been overtaken by the boom in large parts of Asia and the Gulf States.
Half of Swiss revenues from the tourist industry come from foreigners.
Winter tourism generates the most income in mountain regions. Cities like Zurich, Geneva and Basel have become popular as short-stay destinations.
However, the number of hotels is declining even if Swiss hospitality schools have retained their excellent international reputations.
The Swiss tourist industry generated SFr23 billion ($18.8 billion) in income in 2005.
Half of the income is made in the winter season, even though it is only four months long.
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