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Tourist board prepares for another tough season

Switzerland's tourist board is hoping for better conditions this season

Switzerland's tourist board is expecting another tough winter, as the economic downturn continues to bite.

Revealing their new season's programme on Tuesday, tourist officials said they anticipated a further decline in hotel bookings, following this year's projected five per cent fall.

"Things should be slightly better this season, though," reckoned Switzerland Tourism director Jurg Schmid.

"We think there'll be a fall of about one per cent in overnight hotel stays, with apartment bookings holding steady. But just to reach those predicted figures, we'll have to fight hard and promote our product heavily."

Tourist board chairman Dick Marty sounded slightly more upbeat though even suggesting that last year's gloom had helped to improve this year's offerings.

Creativity

"The tourism industry can only mirror the international mood, and the current economic mood is not exactly great," Marty admitted.

"But I do think that the situation has helped to stimulate the creativity of all our team and, so long as the weather plays along, I'm sure we'll have a very good season."

Even the modest target of a one per cent fall in hotel bookings seems optimistic, coming less than two months after the Swiss government agreed to bail out the tourism industry with a four-year subsidy worth SFr135 million ($90 million).

But by aiming for as wide a public as possible, Schmid is confident that Swiss winter tourism can at least achieve a sense of stability.

Three main areas

"We're concentrating on three main areas this season," the tourist director told swissinfo, "nature, wellness and fun.

"By nature, we mean the people who want to get out and enjoy Switzerland's beautiful winter scenery without having to participate in high-speed sports. We can help them do this by promoting our winter walking routes or by introducing them to snow shoes.

"The emphasis on wellness, which covers the whole spa and relaxation business, clearly makes economic sense because hotels with wellness facilities managed to buck last year's trend and register a 2.5 per cent increase in overnight bookings.

"The fun part covers the whole sporting side of the industry, which is obviously still a big part of winter tourism, but it's not just about skiing and snowboarding. We'll be promoting just about every type of winter sport you can think of, and working to combine those sports with leisure events."

Events

The biggest events in this year's winter programme revolve around professional sport and music. The highlight of the Swiss season is likely to be February's world alpine skiing championships in St Moritz, but the snowboard World Cup finals in Arosa and the European curling championships in Grindelwald are also expected to provide much-needed boosts to the industry.

The MTV Winterjam in Davos and Snowbombing music festival in Villars should similarly help attract a younger crowd to Switzerland's slopes.

In an effort to truly kick-start the season, ski resorts across the country will be offering half-price lift passes on December 15, and even those far away from the mountains haven't been forgotten with the tourism board also promoting Christmas fairs and events down in the towns and cities.

Hurdles

But despite the busy schedule and wide range of offers, the Switzerland tourism officials are well aware that many of this year's economic hurdles could still be littering the pistes in 2003.

"The global economy is still not picking up, and the Swiss franc is still strong which certainly gives an advantage to our European neighbours," reckoned Schmid. "Then there's the continuing threat of war in the Middle East which could further reduce the number of visitors from the United States.

"Along with the Japanese, it was the US visitors whose numbers dropped the most last year, falling by about 25 per cent and we know that those sort of figures aren't going to turn around in the next 12 months."

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

Swiss winter tourism

Hotel bookings are expected to fall further this season.
SFr220 million has been spent on technical improvements, including SFr50 million on snow cannon.
The 2003 world skiing championships in St Moritz is set to be a major highlight of the Swiss season.

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