The Alps are what attract tourists to Switzerland the most Keystone

Third export industry

This content was published on November 17, 2009 - 12:01

A key source of income is tourism, although nowadays Swiss travelling abroad spend almost as much as foreign tourists coming here.

However, the balance remains positive, and tourism is the third biggest export industry, employing about 10% of the Swiss workforce.

Early beginnings

Tourism as such began in the 19th century, but as early as the 17th century literary and visual portrayals of Switzerland’s scenic beauty had attracted intellectual elites from abroad.

Initially tourism was a summer pursuit. In winter, heavy snow prevented most travel, and it was only the beginning of winter sport activities, largely pioneered by the British at the end of the 19th century, that brought winter holidays into fashion. Today “low season” means just a few short weeks in spring and autumn.

Short breaks

Thus there are now winter and summer resorts, many bi-seasonal resorts, and every shading in between, complemented by spa and congress tourism.

Among the Swiss population, one-day or weekend excursions are very popular. These favour mountain railways, lake steamers and mountain restaurants.

The tourism industry and the cantons, especially Valais, Graubunden and Bern, are particularly concerned about the so-called "cold beds" phenomenon. Many secondary residences are rarely rented out and are used by their owners for only a few weeks a year.

All over the country

There is no region of Switzerland that does not aspire to some form of tourism. The basic subdivisions include mountain resorts, with walking in summer and skiing in winter, and the many lakeside resorts that offer water sports. Many Swiss cities are in part also resorts, and then there are countless rural areas, not least in the Jura mountains, which offer a less spectacular form of tourism.

Most tourist areas offer a combination of events and activities. The large cities are as much lakeside, congress, and museum venues as they are meeting places for business people.

Promotion of Switzerland as a destination is the responsibility of Switzerland Tourism (

In general, Switzerland now faces far more competition from other destinations, while state expenditure on promotion remains relatively modest. Switzerland Tourism is now tapping markets such as India and China, which have increasing numbers of prosperous people.

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