LAUSANNE According to the World Tourism & Travel Council, the Swiss tourism industry should do well in 2014 with more visitors – and income – for the country. With the impact of climate change and growing competition from resorts elsewhere in the world, however, realising such improvement is not a given. Switzerland still needs to provide top quality with competitive prices, while exploring more innovative options for making its resorts both attractive – and sustainable.
The total contribution of Swiss tourism, including airline and rail travel, to the country’s economy was CHF 46.9 billion (7.8% of GDP) in 2013. This is expected to rise by 2.7% in 2014 and then 3.0% annually over the next decade to roughly CHF 64.5 billion. Job-wise, the industry supported 143,000 jobs or 3.0% of total employment. So the industry remains a key one.
Growing numbers of Swiss resorts, however, are exploring – some desperately – new ways of appealing to visitors, and longer term residents, both from at home and abroad. For the 29 key resorts perched at above 2,800 m, they can guarantee white ski holidays during the winter, and make enough money to justify their investments. Others are not so lucky. They have to figure out how they can remain operational without having to rely on good snowfalls to cover the bulk of their costs. Or to have the bulk of their buildings – and shops – remain empty much of the year.
Some, such as Gstaad, Leukerbad, Champery and Villars, are already offering non-stop “everything” from specially tailored summer hiking and festivals to wildlife attractions, low-season conferences and gourmet food courses. The goal is to remain active and retain skilled personnel for as long as possible to avoid going seasonally “dead”.
But even with such initiatives, many are still finding it a slog. Switzerland’s alpine resorts need to become more far more imaginative. This means incorporating themselves more into the country’s overall industrial, agricultural and educational fabric without relying primarily on new construction that enriches the developers, but not a more sustainable environment.
One answer is improved public transportation, notably rail, but also state-of-the-art IT facilities, a challenge perhaps, for EPFL’s out-of-the-box thinkers. Plus the sort of support that provides big city facilities in small town resorts.
There is an inkling of this already. Growing numbers of entrepreneurs and even professionals are moving into the mountains on a part or full-time basis, and often with their families. They use the latest technology to remain in touch with their companies and clients. One British businessman in Chateau d’Oex makes one or two trips a month to Geneva and London, but runs the bulk of his business from a chalet using a UK number. Another does the same in Villars. An American, who used to be based out of Lausanne, runs a global real estate business in Crans-Montana. All their kids go to the local school and benefit from the mountains, both summer and winter, in a manner that they could only once do on an annual holiday.