How visitors from the GCC can turnaround the Swiss tourism industry
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How visitors from the GCC can turnaround the Swiss tourism industry

How visitors from the GCC can turnaround the Swiss tourism industry

The Swiss tourism industry, rattled by the Covid-19 pandemic, is plotting a hard-fought comeback beginning this winter

Switzerland Tourism

According to figures shared by Switzerland’s Federal Statistical Office, last year was a record for the Swiss hotel industry. It recorded 39.6 million overnight stays, up 1.9 per cent year-on-year. Foreign visitors accounted for 21.6 million of those stays, while Swiss nationals registered 17.9 million overnight stays at hotels across the country.

The Covid-19 pandemic has, expectedly, turned those numbers upside down. The government initially forecasted a 6.2 per cent contraction in the economy back in June, but subsequently revised that to -3.8 per cent in October, and a positive +3.8 per cent growth in GDP next year supported, of course, by its tourism industry (tourism-related gross value added to the Swiss economy in 2019 stood at CHF19.5bn).

Helping drive traffic from this region is Matthias Albrecht, GCC director for Switzerland Tourism, who says that latest figures show a decline of 40 per cent of overnight stays in the period from January-September 2020, most of that generated by a dip in international guests.

“In the past few years, GCC tourists were responsible for roughly one million overnights in Switzerland. Daily expenditure of GCC tourists is around CHF420 per day, which meant that tourists from the GCC generated about CHF420m turnover per year in Switzerland.”

He reveals that the two biggest source markets from the GCC are the UAE (35 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (35 per cent), with Kuwait and Qatar accounting for between 11-12 per cent each, and the remaining coming from Bahrain and Oman.

“The number one destination is Geneva, followed by Zurich, Interlaken, Lake Geneva Region (Lausanne and Montreux) as well as Lucerne and Lugano. Most of the GCC guests are leisure tourists and combine business, leisure and health visits. Most of them travel during the summer months.”

With this year’s summer dominated by global airport closures and restricted travel, Albrecht hopes the winter cycle will provide the fillip to the industry. The Swiss winter (December-March) generally attracts CHF2bn a year. To that end, Switzerland Tourism has launched the ‘Try something for the first time this winter’ campaign which aims to introduce travellers to unique experiences such as a gourmet meal aboard a hot air balloon as you take in the sights of Geneva, paragliding from the Metschstand mountain at night, skitouring in Crans-Montana or staying at an igloo hotel in Igloo Village in Gstaad at the Saanerslochgrat mountain station where the snow huts can accommodate up to six people. “Conscious travel is emerging as a key trend. People expect to travel less frequently, so they want to maximise each trip with more once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” explains Albrecht.

The Swiss tourism industry associations have created a ‘Clean and Safe’ label that attests to tourism establishments complying with protection protocols and hygiene standards set out by the local authorities. But beyond health concerns, restrictions still apply at a governmental level. “Due to Schengen regulations, currently only Europeans and European residents are allowed to travel to Switzerland. That’s why we aim to have a procedure of ‘testing instead of quarantine’ in place and without differentiating between nationalities – a practice which is done very successfully in Dubai, but lacks acceptance in Europe so far.”

However, Albrecht adds: “Travelling from the UAE to Switzerland is currently possible without having to quarantine in Switzerland.” Presently, Swiss International Airlines, Emirates and Etihad operate flights between the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Swiss cities Zurich and Geneva.

“We receive feedback from our guests in the GCC and they really want to travel again. That’s why I believe that by summer 2021 [at the] latest we will see many people returning to Switzerland.” The winter season could be the Swiss tourism industry’s opening salvo.

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