Switzerland sets mountain high tourism example

Even as Switzerland reports its best tourist numbers to date, it has been recognised as the country with the world’s most competitive travel and tourism sector. CLARK KELLY reports
The castle from Vufflens-le-Chateau

Regional economies can look to Switzerland’s travel and tourism sector for innovation, following the country’s recognition as having the most competitive travel and tourism sector in the world, according to a new index compiled by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF).

The mountain country outranked 123 other countries on the back of its safety record and high-quality staff in the WEF’s first Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI). In the same week, Switzerland announced that it had last year seen its best tourism figures since 2000.
“Switzerland is an extremely safe country, with excellent health and hygiene indicators, as well as environmental regulation that is among the most stringent and effective in the world,” the report said. With some of the most well regarded hotel management schools in the world, the quality of the country's human resources is second to none, the report said. This ensures an adequate supply of high-quality staff for the industry.
The report, published in March, said the Swiss transport system and tourism infrastructure were among the best in the world. It pointed out that the country’s natural and cultural resources were among the richest in the world. Switzerland is home to six World Heritage sites.
Switzerland was followed by neighbours Austria and Germany. Iceland, the United States, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Luxembourg and Britain completed the top ten.
“Our study is not a ‘beauty contest’, or a statement about the attractiveness of a country. On the contrary, we aim to measure the factors that make it attractive to develop the travel and tourism industry of individual countries. The top rankings of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore demonstrate the importance of supportive business and regulatory frameworks, coupled with world-class transport and tourism infrastructure and a focus on nurturing human and natural resources, for fostering an environment that is attractive for developing the travel and tourism sector,' said Jennifer Blanke, senior economist of the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Network.
This cross-country analysis of the drivers of competitiveness in travel and tourism provides useful comparative information for making business decisions and additional value to governments wishing to improve their travel and tourism environments.
The TTCI uses a combination of data from publicly available sources, international travel and tourism institutions and industry  experts.
Countries are judged on 13 categories, among them security, transport infrastructure, hygiene, rules and regulations and the priority accorded to travel and tourism.

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.
Last year saw 34.8 million overnight stays – an increase of almost six per cent on 2005. Foreign visitors accounted for just under half of them.
GCC nationals accounted for about 75,000 arrivals and 287,739 overnights in 2006. 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.
“GCC travellers mainly go to Switzerland in the summer, from mid-June to mid-September. This year, however, we have noticed an increased interest in having winter holidays in January and February,” said Dubai-based Tawfik Melli, GCC market manager, Switzerland Tourism.
Consequently, Switzerland Tourism has increased its marketing budget for the region, according to 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.”
Melli said the board expected an increase of seven to ten per cent in tourist numbers this year. Already, overnight numbers in January and February were slightly higher than the same period last year, due to the fact the the Eid Holidays was at the turn of the year, said Melli.
In terms of areas in Switzerland that are of interest to regional markets, he said, “Arabs are very familiar with the Geneva lake region (Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux, Zermatt), which has been active in the GCC for the last 15 years. However, after Switzerland Tourism opened it’s office in Dubai, new destinations are investing in the market. These include Zurich, Interlaken, Lugano, StMoritz and SaasFee.”
Melli added that this month’s ATM, where Switzerland has a strong presence, provides an opportunity for suppliers of Swiss travel products to establish new contacts and follow up on recent interfaces with the trade, such as a GCC roadshow.