Switzerland increases Middle East visitors

WITH Switzerland showing a 33 per cent rise in the number of Gulf-based visitors so far this year, TTN spoke to TAWFIK MELLI, market manager GCC for Switzerland Tourism Middle East about what makes the country a hit with Arab travellers.

How many visitors did Switzerland attract in 2009, how did this compare to 2008 and what are the figures so far this year?

The total number of arrivals at the country’s hotels last year was 15,564,494 down 2.7 per cent on 2008.

This number is made up of 7,270,576 arrivals from within Switzerland and 8,293,918 foreign visitors.
From January to July this year the total was 9,338,416 with 5,064,110 overseas arrivals including 77,988 from the Gulf countries, up 19,408 on the same period last year.

Has the number of visitors remained stable or has it been growing/reducing and to what do you attribute this?

Apart from 2009, when the number of overnight stays was down six per cent, we have seen an increase every year since 2003. However, in 2009, swine flu had an impact in the beginning of the travel season (June/July) and Ramadan had an impact on the end of the summer season in August.

What are the main markets for Swiss tourism, do you have figures for where the visitors come from?

January-July’s 2010 overnight stay development does show the following pattern:

Priority markets with weaker currencies (Euro and sterling) performed negatively, except France which was up 1.3 per cent.

Priority markets with more stable/stronger currencies, such as the yen and the US dollar, performed well. The number of overnight stays was up 13.2 per cent from Japan and 7.6 per cent from the US.

Our best performing markets were China, up 47 per cent on its number of overnights, the Gulf countries, up 27.8 per cent, Korea, up 27.3 per cent, Malaysia, up 20.4 per cent and India which was up 19.7 per cent.

What do visitors from this region want when they come to Switzerland?

Arabs love to travel to Switzerland as it stands for quality along with beautiful cities, mountains, lakes and hotels, the main travel season is summer (excluding Ramadan).

Arab travellers like to enjoy the human-size Swiss cities/resorts, the weather, food, shopping, hotels infrastructure, education institutes, medical clinics/spas and sometimes excursions.

What can visitors hope to find when they come to Switzerland, what are the main draws and what are the most popular times to visit the country?

Arabs travel to Switzerland mainly in the summer, however, we have noticed more interest in winter leisure holidays though this is a niche market still from the Middle East. But the winter season is, in fact, a peak season for Switzerland for many other markets.

Switzerland has a very good diversity in its product now as before 2003 Arab visitors used to travel mainly to Geneva, Lausanne and Montreux, however, since we started promoting other destinations along with the traditional ones, they are travelling more and more to Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken, Lugano, Zermatt, SaasFee and CransMontana.

What are the visa requirements for travellers coming to Switzerland from the GCC and wider Middle East?

Swiss embassies/consulates issue Schengen visas according to the EU regulations.

Are there any particular promotions planned to draw visitors from this region?

We conduct roadshows, media trips and are developing our Arabic web pages. We also have  media campaigns, travel fairs, workshops and familiarisation trips to Switzerland as well as E-learning programmes for the travel trade.