Chinese tourists are returning to Switzerland

A Chinese tourist receives a gift from an employee at Geneva International Airport on February 9. [Photo/Xinhua]

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

Simon Bosshart, chief market director East for Switzerland Tourism, said he was confident of a return of Chinese visitors after the lifting of pandemic restrictions, adding: “China will once again become a very important market for Switzerland.”

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, visitor numbers have fallen to between 2% and 10% of the 2019 total in each of the past three years.

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

“With its ambitious and fast-moving nature, once things really arrive in China, China transforms into reality much faster than any other country,” he said.

The pent-up demand for travel to Switzerland from China is already evident, he said, “with visa demand returning up 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 huge.

“China is a huge market with a population that is growing rapidly, living in big cities and looking for authentic experiences, pristine nature and a relaxing environment. Switzerland is well-positioned to meet the needs of Chinese tourists for such unique experiences,” said Bosshart.

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

“I think China’s role has changed. Before COVID-19, China was a mass market, but now the market will fundamentally change in quality. Europe has reached its 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 trips, family trips, individual trips, skiing, hiking, biking and cultural trips,” Bosshart said.

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

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

Bosshardt said Switzerland Tourism hopes this year to recover to 50 percent of the total number of visitors for 2019, which is an ambitious goal.

“However, even if it’s 40 percent, it’s still considered good progress,” he said. “We anticipate a full recovery by 2026, but we are not aiming for the same type of business as before. Instead, we aim to provide better quality tourism, which can lead to fewer guests staying longer and spending more money.”

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

When it comes to sustainable travel, Bauerman said it’s not just about the tourists themselves, but how destinations design and promote low-impact experiences that actively support environmental protection and reduce negative impacts on the community.

Dimitrios Bouhalis, Head of Tourism and Hospitality at Bournemouth University, echoed the sentiment, saying: “Sustainability is essential for destination management and also for ensuring that tourism benefits local communities.

“Destinations need to take care of their resources and ensure that they maintain the experience of their customers. This is a global trend and will involve travelers and the entire travel industry.”

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