The Swiss tourism industry is recovering after two very difficult years. Since the Swiss National Bank unpegged the franc in 2015, prompting it to climb to a record against the euro in 2015, it has depreciated considerably. For the hotel industry, that is a great relief.
“The hotel industry has a particularly difficult cost structure as we can’t move production abroad – all our costs are in Switzerland,” says Siro Barino, the managing director of Swiss Deluxe Hotels, an association representing 42 Swiss five-star hotels. “So the depreciation of the franc is very welcome.”
For the first time in history, tourists to Switzerland spent less in the country than Swiss tourists spent abroad in 2016. But there were nonetheless signs of recovery. Guests from the US and the Middle East – the two most important markets after the domestic market – are flocking back to Switzerland’s top hotels, Barino says, contributing to an increase of 2 percent in overnight stays in 2016. “That is a trend that has consolidated in 2017,” he says.
Barino stresses that luxury hotels are a significant sector of the Swiss economy, with about 1.1 million guests a year and a turnover estimated at 1.5 billion Swiss francs. But in addition to that, they are important for the national image. “Think of the Iran-US talks, for example,” he says. “We have to have the infrastructure. Otherwise they will go somewhere else.”
Swiss guests account for almost 29 percent of overnight stays at Swiss Deluxe Hotels, the US and Middle East account for about 12 percent each, and the UK and Germany account for about 7 percent each. A decline in the number of Russian tourists has persisted, largely because of the depreciation of the ruble and political uncertainties. In general, “Switzerland has profited from being a safe haven” at a time when terrorism features regularly on news broadcasts around the world, Barino says.
One important legislative change will also help the industry, Barino says. In September, the Swiss parliament passed a law making it illegal for companies such as Booking.com to contractually oblige hotels to offer their lowest prices on the platform. As more and more guests book online – many using their mobile phones – this is a significant victory for the hotels, he says.
The tourism industry is also increasingly benefiting from Switzerland’s excellent reputation for healthcare and its cluster of medical expertise, says Andrej Reljic, the managing director of Swiss Health.
He differentiates between two types of patients who come to Switzerland from abroad; those who cannot get the treatment they need at home for severe illnesses like cancer or neurological or cardiac disease, and those seeking relief for chronic illnesses, preventive care, or wellness cures. About 30,000 foreign patients come to Switzerland annually for residential treatment.
“There is a very rich historical tradition,” says Reljic.”The first guests from England didn’t come for the skiing. They came because they had tuberculosis or another illness. This tradition is reawakening.”
Escaping the Bustle
The quest for quality of life is also prompting vacationers to increasingly seek an escape from the bustle of busy city lives, says Pascal Jenny, Director for Arosa-Lenzerheide. The region is one of the biggest ski areas in Europe, with 225 kilometres of slopes. It is focussing on building markets in Scandinavia and China and on boosting summer tourism with a range of biking opportunities and a new animal welfare concept (Arosa Bear Sanctuary, opening in summer 2018).
Jenny says guests are increasingly staying longer in the region, which is only two hours from Zurich, but still very remote. Notably, the region of Arosa has avoided hosting tour groups and caters for individual tourists.
“One trend we have noticed in the last two years is that people increasingly want to switch off completely and find an antidote to hectic city lives,” Jenny says. “We are often asked – ‘will I really be away from it all?’”