‘You know what you get with

The Freddy Mercury statue in Montreux-Vevey – the region has seen a double digit growth in tourist arrivals from the GCC

ARABS have been heading to Switzerland for more than 25 years, the most well-known, of course, being Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, who owned and often stayed at a villa outside Geneva.

“It’s a very loyal market that’s been increasing every year,” says Harry John, president of Montreux-Vevey Tourism. Montreux lies on the northern shore of Lake Geneva in the district of Vevey and sees a fair amount of travellers from the region. “The total overnights from the region doubled in the years from 1999 to 2005, to 300,000,” he says, estimating a 10 per cent increase in numbers this year.
Geneva gets about half of those overnights, with Lausanne and Montreux taking a fair percentage of the rest.
As a destination, Switzerland is fairly active in the region, with regular roadshows and workshops across the GCC and hotels such as the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne even hire regional marketing representatives.
“Several hotels in the land-locked country are geared towards Middle Eastern guests, offering services tailored to Arab clients. This is one of the major reasons why visitors choose to come to Switzerland,” says John. “Our country also offers a safe and secure destination,  and that has a lot of appeal as well – you know what you get. We have a lot to offer in terms of business opportunities and with numerous activities for the entire family.”
The other big factor, of course, is Switzerland’s longtime healthcare reputation, with clinics such as La Prairie well known in the region. Other contributors include the cosmopolitan nature of cities such as Geneva, easy availability of Arab cuisine as well as a large number of expatriate Arab businesspeople settled in Switzerland.
John says the appeal also lies in the fact that the country is cheaper than some other parts of Europe. “When you compare the euro in Vienna or Marbella, Switzerland is not more expensive,” he says.
The majority of GCC visitors – about 50 per cent – come from Saudi Arabia with another 20 per cent from Kuwait, while the remainder come from the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. The rest of the Middle East combined comprises only about five per cent, says John.
With Lufthansa’s merger with Swiss airlines and both airlines now using  Zurich as a hub, the city -- and Switzerland -- is increasingly expected to find favour as a central  point from where tourists can plan journeys into Europe.

CALLED the Pearl of the Riviera, Montreux-Vevey enjoys a particularly mild and pleasant climate thanks to its location on the shores of Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps.
“Montreux-Vevey offers an ideal location for any kind of activities, whether recreational or professional and is the perfect destination for international congresses, conferences, or Motivation-Trips,” says Montreux-Vevey Tourism’s Harry John. 
A diversity of excursions is on offer by bus, train or boat and an array of sports available including water sports, tennis, golf, horse-riding and hiking.
There is always something happening on the Swiss Riviera, whether it be international events throughout the year, the Jazz Festival in July and smaller events like the open-air cinemas and traditional markets to be found in Vevey.
The region has four five-star hotels but dozens of hotels of all categories, on the lakeside, in the mountains or in the centre of town, are available in the Montreux-Vevey area. Alternatives from a friendly B&B to holiday flats and charming campsites are also on offer.
And getting around the region is easy with the new Riviera Card that allows visitors to travel free on the VMCV bus network and at half-fare on several train excursions as well as 50 per cent off on visits to the Riviera museum, theme park and more.