Travel agents weather economic downturn

The gloomy economy hasn't stopped the Swiss from heading off on summer holidays Keystone

Switzerland’s travel industry has done better than expected this summer thanks to a rush of last-minute bookings.

This content was published on August 6, 2003 - 10:32

Agents, who have managed to weather the downturn caused by the gloomy economy, are now hoping to reach last year’s sales figures.

Roland Schmid, spokesman for TUI Switzerland, the country’s third-biggest travel agency, says summer business hasn’t been as bad as initially feared. Bookings for Mediterranean holidays have remained fairly stable.

“People’s desire to go on holidays has been stronger than the economic crisis,” he said. Schmid adds that the travel business had prepared itself for reduced demand last spring, cutting capacity.

TUI reckons its summer season business will be ten per cent less than last year. Its competitor, Hotelplan, estimates that figure will be just six per cent less.

Switzerland’s number four travel specialist, RBM, says the final July figures will probably be slightly down, but August should be good. “Summer business was not so bad in the end,” said RBM’s head, Oskar Laubi.

The market leader, Kuoni, says it will not give out any numbers because of stock market rules, but spokesman Stefan Wehrle does confirm that business is better than predicted earlier this year.

Last-minute

Late bookings have been the key to this summer’s better-than-expected results.

Customers often made their decision to go away just before leaving, but not everybody booked special deals. Many clients also chose holidays out of agents’ catalogues, paying the full price for their trips.

In mid-June, Hotelplan had sold less than 60 per cent of its July offer, but that figure eventually rose to 92 per cent.

Travel specialists are now hoping that the upward trend will continue in the coming months. “The second part of the year, especially October, is particularly important for travel agents,” said Kuoni’s Wehrle.

Hotelplan’s head of tour operating, Peter Spring, is still hoping that sales will reach last year’s levels.

But travellers shouldn’t expect any special deals from agents this autumn and winter. Unlike their German counterparts, Swiss travel agents don’t expect to discount holidays.

They generally maintain that their profit margins have already been eaten away, slashing prices is too risky or that discounting goes against company rules.

The agents say the only way Swiss customers will be able to save some money is to make the most of favourable exchange rates in some holiday destinations, or take up special offers from hotels.

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In brief

Switzerland's travel industry has registered better-than-expected summer results thanks to a rush of last-minute bookings.

Many customers waited until just before leaving to choose their holiday destinations, but were often prepared to pay the full price for their time away.

Agents expect their final sales' results to be close to last year's.

They hope that the upward trend will continue during the second half of the year, but Swiss customers shouldn't expect any cut-rate deals for their autumn and winter holidays.

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