Last month, the newly appointed chief executive of Switzerland Tourism, Martin Nydegger, was in Dubai to deliver a keynote on medical tourism at Dubai Health Forum. “It is a great opportunity to learn about the market, establish Switzerland as a leading tourism destination and attend an interesting health forum,” he says. This is the first market Nydegger has visited since his appointment as CEO earlier this year.
While medical tourism is a perfect proposition for Switzerland with its specialised medical offerings, adventure travel cannot be discounted from a country that is home to the world’s best chocolate and some of the world’s most beautiful mountains. “We want to become one of the most desirable outdoor destinations in the world. We carefully choose the term ‘outdoor’ and not ‘adventure’ so as to be more inclusive and not scare people with strenuous mountain hikes, hard work and potential failure.
“We are a small country and an even smaller part of it is the Alps, yet we have a network of 650 mountain railways, so practically every mountain is accessible by train. This is where we are different from the Andes in South America or the Himalayas, which you cannot wholly negotiate without some sweat on your brow. We bring in easy accessibility into the mix, so you can relax and enjoy the view or take a leisurely stroll.”
Matthias Albrecht, director of Switzerland Tourism in the GCC, recommends the Bernese Oberland, Interlaken and surroundings, and Ticino as some interesting outdoor options for GCC visitors and families. For those who like to pump up the adrenaline, Jet Boat Interlaken, Switzerland's first commercial jet boat, offers a spectacular ride on the turquoise waters of Lake Brienz.
“We see a big potential for the Arab market in the winter, maybe not as big as the summer, but sizeable. There are punters in the region who are interested in skiing in natural surroundings and we are targeting these people,” says Albrecht.
The last eight years have seen Europe, Switzerland’s key feeder market, see a decline by about 60 per cent. 2017 finally saw the decline plateau and December numbers may even show a slight increase globally by about 2 or 2.5 per cent, says the CEO. While numbers were declining from Europe, India, China, GCC and the US have been a success story.
Nydegger says, “We will not reach the one million overnight mark from the Gulf countries in 2017, it will be around 960,000 overnights. It will take us one more year to get to one million, but we are happy. We are predicting stability from the Gulf countries in 2017, not the growth that we would have liked to see, but no decline. The Qatar crisis certainly has had an impact on growth.
“Nature is at the heart of the Gulf tourist. We will continue to push the Grand Tour in the region because we know that tourists from Gulf countries love to roam, to explore. They travel with what we call ‘a hub and spoke’ character. They stay in a place, for instance, Luzern, Zurich or Geneva, and then discover the neighbourhood and come back on the same day or the next. They love to have their home base for its convenience, because they travel in family groups, not everyone wants to do the same thing on any given day. So, having a home base provides the flexibility to move around.”
“What we see generally in Switzerland, and in particular from the GCC increasingly, is a phenomenon called ‘destination gathering’. Families and friends who live in different parts of the world, want to see each other and have a great time together, and they are choosing to do so in Switzerland. As such, we see that the number of heads per group is increasing.”
The 46-year-old has been a member of Switzerland Tourism’s executive board since 2008 and takes over from Jürg Schmid, who held the post of head of the organisation for 18 years. After this trip to Dubai, Nydegger is headed to another important market – India, which supplied Switzerland with 750,000 overnights over 2017. India is clearly more than a feeder market to him, he has personal connections. “India is very close to my heart. When I was a student, I trained at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai,” he shares.
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