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Switzerland's new tourism ambassador

Roth says he represents "a Switzerland that is open to the outside"

(Keystone)

In the face of tough international competition and global warming, the tourism sector must not rest on its laurels, says the new president of Switzerland Tourism.

But despite the major challenges ahead, Jean-François Roth, a former parliamentarian and senator, has great faith in the nation's strengths: quality, networks abroad and reputation as a place for innovation.

"International tourism can quite easily live without Switzerland," Roth told swissinfo. "We are competing against 190 other destinations worldwide. Today you can go skiing in Dubai or take beach holidays in Sweden."

As a result, Switzerland either has to be better or cheaper than the others, said the new tourism president.

"As we have no chance of competing in the low-price segment, we therefore have to be better," he commented.

For the moment, the Swiss tourism sector is in relatively good shape. The number of overnight stays is steadily increasing and over the past few years numerous luxury hotels have invested heavily and extended their offers in Switzerland.

Wellness centres are also enjoying a boom and many ski resorts have equipped themselves with snow cannons to guarantee skiing conditions.

But mid-range hotels still have to invest more in infrastructure, the new president explained.

Global warming

Winter holidays are one of Switzerland's strong points, said Roth, who lives in canton Jura. But he acknowledged that milder winters have had disastrous consequences for the tourist industry.

"If global warming becomes a reality, winter tourism will face huge difficulties," the president warned.

To compensate, medium-altitude resorts have to develop new tourism offers in summer, he explained.

"I don't have the secret recipe, but we have to think long and hard about this issue and develop some new ideas," he said.

Roth was appointed by the Swiss cabinet to take over as president of Switzerland Tourism from Senator Dick Marty.

"I think I was chosen precisely because I don't come from a canton with a strong reputation for tourism," said Roth. "I am neutral and can act as a mediator between the major tourism regions of this country."

His election has also been interpreted as signal to the Jura region to put greater emphasis on the development of its tourism sector.

Tough man

During his time as economics minister for canton Jura from 1994 to 2006, Roth's tough reputation helped the region open up and overcome traditional prejudices towards German-speaking parts of the country.

The Christian Democrat was behind a number of political success stories in the region, in particular in the areas of economic promotion, education, agriculture and public transport.

"I am convinced that the small regions have to open up. I believe in the importance of exchange. You can't develop policies on your own," said Roth, who is well known in the federal parliament from his time as senator from 1987 to 1994. In 1999 his name was also put forward as a candidate for the Swiss cabinet.

"I am a Christian Democrat through and through," said Roth when asked whether he'd thought about changing parties. "You can also be open in the Christian Democratic Party. But it's true I am very independent in the way I think and feel."

As the new ambassador of Switzerland Tourism, Roth says he is convinced cabinet chose him as he best represents "a Switzerland that is open to the outside".

"Switzerland is an innovative country. It has always maintained good relations with its neighbours and does business around the world. This is the image of Switzerland I want to promote abroad."

swissinfo, Andreas Keiser

JEAN-FRANÇOIS ROTH

Born in 1952 in Courtételle, canton Jura.

1970-1987: Member of canton Jura parliament (Christian Democratic Party).

1994-2006: Senator for canton Jura.

President of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR Idée Suisse) since July 1, 2007.

President of Switzerland Tourism from December 1, 2007.

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Switzerland Tourism

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.

Switzerland Tourism has an annual budget of SFr74 million ($67.7 million) – 60% from the government and 40% from members and private partnerships. Sixty-four per cent of funds are used for marketing.

In 2006 the Swiss tourism sector generated income amounting to SFr28 billion – 6.2% of gross domestic product (GDP).

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