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Switzerland struggles to bring back rich travellers

“The strength of the Swiss franc over the euro has caused a near nine-percent-drop in European tourist numbers” to Switzerland during the first seven months of this year, said Federico Sommaruga, who heads the emerging markets unit at Switzerland Tourism, the national tourist board.

The Swiss currency gained 11 percent against the euro in the first nine months last year, forcing the Swiss central bank to intervene with a pledge to buy unlimited amounts of the European common currency to ensure one euro would buy a minimum of 1.20 Swiss francs. Luxury branded products of all categories have become more expensive than in neighbouring Italy or Germany.

In August alone this year, bookings by European visitors slumped 9.5 percent, with an 18-percent-drop in Dutch guests, according to the Swiss Hotel Association. To entice visitors back, rail operator SBB recently launched a 15-day offer for unlimited travel throughout Switzerland — also including boats and buses — for 199 francs (164 euros, $215).

Many ski resorts meanwhile have announced a freeze on ski-pass prices, conscious of the expected drop in bookings from many crisis-hit European countries. According to the Swiss weekly Der Sonntag, more than half of resorts contacted said their ski-pass prices were unchanged, whereas last year 80 percent of them announced price increases.

Several resorts even announced price cuts for a day on the slopes, including Saas-Fee, in the southern Valais canton, and Engelberg-Brunni, in central Switzerland. “We are preparing for another difficult winter, thanks to the strong Swiss franc,” said Andreas Keller, spokesman for Swiss mountain lift company SBS.

Last winter season saw the number of skier days fall to 24.7 million, from 26 million the previous year, Keller said. “We struggled last year because of the strong franc, and because of several days of storms which affected the new year celebrations,” he added.

But not all resorts are as badly hit. Those with a loyal Swiss following and which are close to towns have side-stepped the downturn. But big resorts such as Zermatt, in the canton of Valais, and St Moritz in Grisons, often the preserve of well-heeled jet-setters have come down to earth with a bump.

To soften the landing, hotels in these resorts now offer sweeteners for guests: anyone booking in for at least two nights in in the Engadine region, for instance, is entitled to a ski-pass for around 25 francs a day, a fraction of the usual rate. And in the Arosa ski resort, ski school lessons are free for children up to 12 years old, in an attempt to combat the growing number turning away from the sport.

adapted from AFP

Unique Post Hotel, Zermatt

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