Tourism in Switzerland: a Successful Summer 2023 for the Industry

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The latest figures released by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) have put even more spring in Swiss tourism’s step. Night stays in Switzerland for the months of June and July 2023 were recently published. And the news is good! Night stays (or hotel stays) were 8.6% higher in June 2023 versus June 2023. This confirms an earlier report indicating that in the first half of 2023, night stays increased 13.8% year on year.

Numbers recently published by the OFS show that night stays were up 4.5% in July 2023, compared with July 2022, driven by foreign demand (+14.9%). Domestic tourism was down ever so slightly (-0.8%), confirming the trend.

For SECO, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, the trend for Switzerland is even rosier regarding the return of international tourists. In the six months to June 30, 2023, Switzerland recorded a whopping y-o-y increase of 33% in overnight stays by foreign travelers.

For SECO, night stays are projected to surpass pre-Covid levels for the first time, on the back of a slight rebound in Asian demand in particular. Inflation, which has eroded buying power (particularly in Europe and the United States), combined with the strength of the Swiss franc have kept a lid on the enthusiasm, however. The UK is the lone bright spot for otherwise soft European demand. However, Chinese visitors to this Alpine country have not returned in numbers comparable to those seen before Covid.

Night stays are almost evenly split between foreign and domestic tourists. In the first half of 2023, Swiss residents accounted for 12.2 million overnight stays, with the remaining 11.9 million (+28.7% y-o-y) coming from foreigners. In all, tourism accounts for roughly 5% of Swiss GDP.

Swiss Tourists Habits: A view from the field

While the Swiss are travelling abroad again, even more often than in pre-Corona times, foreign guests are also travelling to the Engadin Valley again, said Jan Steiner, Brand Manager Engadin. His Alpine resort, which includes the posh ski town of Saint-Moritz, recorded a slight y-o-y increase of 0.3% in May and June. This bodes well for the summer months, but much depends on the weather, he said.

For Jay Gauer, the director of the Trois Couronnes, a five-star hotel located in Vevey, Switzerland, this year, Swiss tourists are travelling to other countries. Indeed, the Swiss tend to vacation abroad, particularly Italy and France—where hotels and restaurants are markedly less expensive—during the summer months. Throughout the pandemic, the Swiss, however, were compelled, by travel restrictions—and encouragement by Roger Federer himself—, to further explore their own country.

A word of caution about strong summer data

But pent-up wanderlust and swollen travel budgets have sent the Swiss packing their bags for foreign destinations once again. While the season appears to be a good one, without data on hotel stays for July and August, it is too early to draw conclusions, Gauer cautioned. Gauer spearheaded a post-Covid initiative, called Dolce Riviera, to promote lakeside leisure activities and local restaurants in Switzerland’s Riviera area, which has been a crowd-pleaser for both tourists and locals.

Sergei Aschwanden, Director of Tourism of the Alpes Vaudoises (covering the Villars-Gryon ski resort), also cited many of the same factors that have kept Summer 2023 numbers in check: the strong Swiss franc, iffy weather in July and the decision by many Swiss holidaymakers to travel abroad on vacation. Yet, he said: hoteliers are quite satisfied. Even though initial numbers in his resort pointed to a 5% slowdown in night stays versus the summer of 2022, last year was an exceptional season, with very sunny weather. He mentioned a different factor that has the resort smiling: an increase in visitors in early fall. Indeed, summer is powering well into late September because of climate change and a new phenomenon that has taken Swiss ski resorts by storm: the Magic Pass. With more and more tourists around the world booking during ‘shoulder season’ to escape the heat, crowds and high prices of summer, some have questioned whatever happened to the off-season? The popularity of the four-season lift pass has encouraged more and more visitors to take the chairlifts up to Alpine summits and descend the resort’s trails on foot or mountain bike.

Chinese Tourism in Switzerland: Where have all the tourists gone?

Where there were 133,769 Chinese who visited Switzerland in July 2019, only 46,167 visited in July 2023 (-97%). The tourism office in Lucerne, which has been a popular destination for the Chinese, has spoken, perhaps somewhat euphemistically, of a transition year in 2023. Yet, it is hard to imagine Chinese tourism returning to pre-Covid levels anytime soon.

To me it’s not surprising to see Swiss tourism performing well”,said Yong Chen, professor of economics at EHL Hospitality Business School, before cautioning China is starting to come back, but I’m not that optimistic about how many tourists will come back and when.

The Chinese economy is not doing well, Prof. Chen stated matter-of-factly. Despite the re-opening of direct flights between Geneva and Beijing, airfares, according to prof. Chen, have doubled or tripled and flights are relatively empty. He cited a recent flight in August where the plane was two-thirds empty. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a hub-to-hub plane so empty. Dr. Chen doesn’t expect a complete recovery of Chinese tourism in Switzerland anytime soon as the Chinese economy struggles, discretionary consumer spending stalls and the geopolitical situation grows increasingly hostile.

Given the tone of the present decade, tourism cannot thrive or even survive in an environment where there is so much tension. Indeed, Chinese tourists have been few and far between in Switzerland since Covid. During the first four months of 2023, the number of Chinese visitors to Switzerland was down 87% and night stays dropped 68% compared to the same period in 2019 (a record-breaking year by almost all accounts). Administrative hurdles in China, including long waits for passports and Schengen visas, are exacerbating matters.

While it appears that Swiss tourism has enjoyed a strong summer, it remains to be seen how the impact of plummeting Chinese demand, along with other headwinds, will play out in the long run.

Source : HN