SWITZERLAND is proving to be more popular than ever with GCC visitors, according to data provided by the country’s tourism board. GCC visitors to the mountain country numbered 75,000 last year, above Switzerland Tourism projections.
Switzerland Tourism has seen its most successful year to date, with an annual growth of 14.1 per cent.
Swiss Visas issued up to the end of 2006 show an increase of 15 per cent compared to the same period last year. The Free Individual Traveller (FIT) segment is still the solely way of leisure travel to the country.
GCC nationals accounted for 287,739 overnights. Saudi Arabia was top of the table as usual, accounting for more than 50 per cent, followed by Kuwait (18 per cent). Qatar contributed increased numbers, some seven per cent of the total, a direct result of the newly introduced code-share direct flight from Doha to Zurich.
Part of this success is attributable to a special visa rule that allows GCC nationals to enter Switzerland with only a Schengen visa.
While absolute numbers may be small, Tourism Monitor Switzerland showed that the GCC national spends CHF520 ($430.2) per day in the country, catapulting the region to the top position in terms of spending.
Consequently, Switzerland Tourism has increased its marketing budget for the region, said Federico Sommaruga, director, Switzerland Tourism. “Even though the number of overnights spent by GCC residents in Switzerland is 1.5 per cent of the total overnights spent by foreign nationals in the country, almost 6.5 per cent of the total marketing budget is invested in GCC. 2007 will see an increase of budget in GCC, at least by 10 per cent, making it one of the four countries to receive additional funds for promotions. With steady year-on-year growth, the GCC has firmly established itself as one of the key players amongst the emerging markets, alongside Russia, China and India.”
The authority recently announced a special programme called Switzerland Specialist for the GCC tour operators. Fifty delegates from the top 20 Swiss tour operators will conduct six-month semesters in the GCC to certify 200 specialists by 2008.
Dubai-based Tawfik Melli, GCC market manager, Switzerland Tourism, said, Switzerland Specialist tour operators would have direct access to the tourism board, special agency discounts, exclusive information about the country and an agency referral at the board’s web site, MySwitzerland.com.
Switzerland Tourism, which started its GCC operation in 1999 with an office in Dubai, has just completed a promotional road show around the region. Partners were visited in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Bahrain, Kuwait and Doha, in a bid to promote the country, its culture and the various destinations on offer.
Partners included Swiss International Air Lines jointly with Lufthansa, the Swiss Travel System jointly with Rail Europe, Zurich Airport, the attraction park Swissminiatur by Lugano, the European University for the Education in Switzerland, the incoming operator World Avenue, the destinations like Geneva, Zurich, Interlaken, Zermatt, Saas Fee, St. Moritz and Montreux-Vevey-Lausanne in Lake Geneva Area. Also joining in were representatives from four- and five-star hotels.