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Tourist industry buoyant ahead of winter

The national tourism marketing body, Switzerland Tourism, is confident that the industry will continue to demonstrate strong growth this winter.

The organisation said on Tuesday that it expects overnight stays to increase three per cent this coming season, following five per cent growth since the beginning of the year.

The main factor behind this rosy picture is the positive economic situation in Switzerland and abroad, with people apparently willing to spend more money.

"In the past eight years, when the world economy was weak, people were looking for the budget option when they travelled," said the head of Switzerland Tourism, Jürg Schmid.

"But now people are switching back to quality destinations and they are ready to pay a higher price," he told swissinfo. "Time is now more precious than money."

Cost

Switzerland is still not considered a cheap destination, but there have been important changes over the last decade.

"We can never promote the whole of the country at the budget level. But we have seen big changes in the last ten years and Switzerland has improved its competitiveness," said Schmid.

"Many resorts operating in the same valley have now teamed up to market the overall destination rather than individually. This has helped them address Switzerland's expensive image in a positive way," he added.

The favourable Swiss franc-Euro exchange rate has also played a role.

"The implementation of the Euro had the effect of raising prices, particularly in Italy and Austria. The Swiss franc is stable against the Euro which has a positive effect on Swiss tourism," Richard Kämpf of BAK Basel Economics told swissinfo.

Foreigners

Figures compiled by the economics research group and released on Tuesday by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) showed that from January to August, the number of overnight stays by foreign tourists rose by 6.2 per cent to 14.3 million.

Germany led the way (4.2 million overnight stays), followed by the United States (1.2 million) and Britain (1.6 million), which both increased their overnight stays by 11.4 per cent and 8.5 per cent, respectively.

Among the emerging markets, Chinese and Russian visitors spent 18.5 per cent and 16.9 per cent more nights in Switzerland than during the same period in 2005.

The Swiss also love to spend time visiting their own country - some 10.6 million overnight stays in 2005, up four per cent.

City slickers

Urban destinations have benefited most from the surge in foreign tourists, especially Basel (16.7 per cent), Geneva (13.3 per cent) and Zurich (7.6 per cent).

The mountainous Graubünden and Valais regions in the eastern and southern parts of the country remained the most popular destinations (4.4 million and 3.3 million overnight stays respectively). But central Switzerland (8.3 per cent growth) and the Bernese Oberland (6.2 per cent) saw the greatest visitor increases.

To ensure the arrival of more visitors over the next few months, Switzerland Tourism is spending SFr18.3 million ($14.63 million) on its winter advertising campaign targeting Switzerland, Western Europe, Russia and North America.

For next summer, Seco predicts an encouraging one per cent increase in the number of tourists as the economy cools down. In all, it estimates the number of overnight stays to increase by 1.1 per cent overall for the 2006-2007 season.

swissinfo

Seco

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) is the government's competence centre for all core issues relating to economic policy. Its ...

Key facts

The Swiss tourist industry generated SFr23 billion in income in 2005.
Half of the income is made in the winter season, even though it is only four months long.
Among ski resorts, Zermatt draws the most winter guests with 687,679 overnight stays (winter 02/03).

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In brief

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, 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.

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