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Chinese tourists return to Switzerland

By WANG MINGJIE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-05-10 09:19

A Chinese tourist receives a gift from a staff member at the Geneva International Airport on Feb 9. [Photo/Xinhua]

The number of Chinese tourists visiting Switzerland will increase rapidly in the coming months, a senior official at the nation's tourism agency has said.

Simon Bosshart, chief markets officer East for Switzerland Tourism, said he is confident about a return of Chinese visitors following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, adding: "China will become a very important market for Switzerland once again."

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic began, Chinese visitors were the highest-spending group visiting Switzerland, where people spent an average of 380 Swiss francs ($425) per person per day, according to Switzerland Tourism.

In 2019, the number of overnight stays by Chinese guests reached 1.8 million, making China the fourth-largest source market for Switzerland. However, the number of visitors fell to between 2 percent and 10 percent of 2019's totals during each of the past three years.

Bosshart, who was the agency's China director and who has been involved in the Chinese market for more than 17 years, noted it is always striking how quickly things change in China.

"With its ambitious and fast-developing nature, once things really arrive in China, China is much quicker in transforming into a reality than any other countries," he said.

The pent-up demand for travel to Switzerland from China is already evident, he said "with visa demand back to 30 percent in January and February, compared to the same period in 2019".

"This is a very clear sign of recovery," he said.

While the Chinese market is currently small, Bosshart believes its potential is massive.

"China is a huge market with a population that is developing fast, living in big cities, and looking for authentic experiences, pure nature, and relaxing environments. Switzerland is well-positioned to meet the needs of Chinese tourists for such unique experiences," Bosshart said.

He believes quality tourism will recover faster and shape the future of the market following the pandemic.

"I think the role of China has changed. Before COVID-19, China was a mass market, but now the market will fundamentally change in its quality. Europe has come to the limit when it comes to capacity for mass tourism, especially in destinations like Switzerland, which is not a cheap destination."

According to feedback from Chinese tour operators, he said the needs of Chinese tourists are changing.

"Therefore, we are very strongly focused on quality tourism. That means smaller groups, themed travel, family travel, individual travel, skiing, hiking, biking, and cultural trips," Bosshart said.

He emphasized that sustainable travel is also a major focus for Switzerland's tourism board. With European governments promoting sustainable travel and requiring tourism boards to promote it as well, Switzerland is putting a lot of effort into the area.

While the wholesale business may be challenged, individual travel, especially deep traveling, is what people want, and the younger generation is also concerned about sustainability, he added.

Bosshart said Switzerland Tourism hopes to recover to 50 percent of 2019's total number of visitors this year, which is an ambitious goal.

"However, even if it is 40 percent, it is still considered good progress," he said. "We anticipate a full recovery by 2026, but are not striving for the same type of business as before. Instead, we aim to provide more quality tourism, which may lead to fewer guests who stay longer and spend more money."

Gary Bowerman, Asia travel and consumer trends analyst and director of the consultancy Check-in Asia, said: "Switzerland has established a strong reputation in China for the quality and prestige of its brands and products and as a tourism destination, so it is well placed to attract affluent tourists who want to explore the country and learn about its history, culture, landscapes, and cuisines in more detail."

When it comes to sustainable travel, Bowerman said it is not only about the tourists themselves, but also about how destinations design and promote low-impact experiences that actively support environmental protection and reduce negative community impact.

Dimitrios Buhalis, head of the tourism and hospitality department at Bournemouth University, echoed the view, saying: "Sustainability is essential for destination management and also for ensuring that tourism benefits local communities.

"Destinations need to look after their resources and ensure that they support the experience of their customers. This is a global trend and will involve travelers and the entire tourism industry."

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