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Tourism boss warns against false economies

Dick Marty says the government is being short-sighted. swissinfo.ch

The head of Switzerland Tourism is not amused by Christoph Blocher’s suggestion that his organisation should get by on 20 centimes a year from the government.

This content was published on March 19, 2004 - 18:56

Dick Marty told swissinfo that trying to save money by cutting funds used to promote tourism abroad was irresponsible and a false economy.

The rightwing cabinet minister didn’t succeed in cutting Marty’s budget to that extent - in the end, the government decided to give the tourist board SFr200 million for to market tourism for period 2005-2009.

That is SFr30 million less than it received for the previous five-year period, and SFr77 million less than the organisation wanted.

Marty said the extra money would have been used to promote Switzerland as a tourist destination in China, Russia and the Asia-Pacific region. He added that the money would also have been useful to consolidate marketing strategies in neighbouring countries.

swissinfo: What’s your idea of a good holiday destination?

D.M.: In the first place, I want to be close to nature, so that is an important element, as is the quality of the infrastructure. I don’t personally go for luxury, but I do like good food.

swissinfo: Does Switzerland fulfil your criteria for a holiday destination?

D.M.: Whatever critics may say, I think Switzerland has a lot to offer tourists. You have to look at the whole package, not just the price tag.

swissinfo: Christoph Blocher says the tourism industry should only get government backing worth 20 centimes a year. What would the loss of your subsidy mean?

D.M.: I think Blocher is showing his true colours. He doesn’t care about the thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses which are struggling to survive.

His proposal shouldn’t be taken seriously. The role of Switzerland Tourism and the way it is funded are enshrined in law. So Blocher would have to bring about a legislative change.

Unlike other sectors, like watches, pharmaceuticals or machinery, the tourism industry is not made up of a few large, homogenous businesses. It’s unthinkable that a camping site or a hotel would be able to single-handedly manage its marketing strategy on an international level.

Every country with a tourism industry has a national marketing organisation, which is supported by the public purse. Most countries also have a tourism ministry.

swissinfo: What about suggestions that the tourist industry needs to undergo structural reform?

D.M.: Reforms are already taking place - in the past ten years 1000 hotels have closed. But it would be a big mistake strategically to try and save money on marketing when the sector is in crisis.

Our role is to make sure that Switzerland is better placed on the international market. When we promote tourism abroad we are participating in the development of the industry.

swissinfo: How will the government’s cuts to your subsidy – SFr30 million over the next five years - affect what you do?

D.M.: It’s difficult to say at the moment. But it is clear that we will have to make cuts in certain areas.

The situation with the national airline has not helped. The [successor to the collapsed Swissair], Swiss, does not fly to important markets such as Taipei. Delhi, or Seoul [, South Korea].

The situation is a bit ridiculous because last autumn Switzerland was granted “Approved Destination Status” by China, which means it is much easier for Chinese tourists to come to Switzerland.

The foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, said at the time that this meant “100 million tourists for Switzerland”.

The money we wanted, but didn’t get, would have helped us to cement our position in the Chinese market, and also in Russia, where bookings to Switzerland are growing by ten to 20 per cent a year. The same applies to India, South Korea and Taiwan.

swissinfo: So what do you plan to do? Concentrate on new markets or focus on keeping the existing ones?

D.M.: We definitely have to work on new markets, but that doesn’t mean we can turn our backs on countries such as Germany, which is by far our biggest market.

France is the most popular tourist destination in the world in terms of overnight stays. Last year, it suffered a big drop in business – proportionately much larger than Switzerland - but the French reacted immediately by increasing the tourism budget.

I’m worried that our new finance minister, Hans-Rudolf Merz, will start cutting investment because he doesn’t know where else to make savings. This would be a huge mistake.

swissinfo: Austria is often cited as a model tourist destination. What makes the Austria so successful compared with Switzerland?

D.M.: The prices! We Swiss have a disconcerting tendency towards masochism.

Last summer, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) published a study comparing production costs in the main tourist countries.

It showed that labour costs in Austria were 31 per cent lower than in Switzerland. Foodstuffs cost less than half than in Switzerland. And what did Austria do? It used the Swiss figures in its advertising!

Nevertheless, we are convinced that Switzerland is a wonderful destination for tourists. That’s the response in every survey.

swissinfo, Andrea Tognina (translation: Joanne Shields)

Key facts

Switzerland Tourism’s budget has been cut by SFr30 million to SFr200 million over the next five years.
Dick Marty says the cuts mean the organisation is losing opportunities to sell Switzerland in new markets.
China, Russia and the Asia-Pacific region are seen as key new markets for tourists.

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In brief

China last autumn granted Switzerland “Approved Destination Status” which makes it much easier for Chinese to travel to Switzerland.

The collapse of the national airline, Swissair, has hurt tourism because its successor Swiss does not fly to key markets such as Beijing, Taipai, Delhi or Seoul.

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