Switzerland is re-doubling its efforts to woo Indian tourists

NARAYANAN V Chennai | Updated on September 27, 2019

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As of July this year, Switzerland saw over eight lakh Indian tourists

For 25-year old Pari, her first visit to Switzerland was a perspective-changing experience. From playing with real bears at the Bear Park in Bern’s Old Town to tasting the country's finest Alpine cheese in Verbier village, Pari’s idea of Switzerland as a romantic destination for couples has changed forever, as it has for many other Indians.

“The new generation thinks Switzerland is only about romantic destinations but there are many things to experience beyond that,” Ritu Sharma, Deputy Director, Switzerland Tourism, told BusinessLine recently.

Snow-capped mountains, ravishing landscapes and pristine waterfalls are the first thing that come to mind when people talk about Switzerland, thanks to Yash Chopra and numerous Bollywood songs over the years that made the Alpine state a go-to destination for couples.

But the mountainous country landlocked between France, Germany and Italy is filled with a diverse range of food and culture besides being the home of numerous nerve-wrecking adventure activities.

Skiing to snowboarding and hiking to biking, Switzerland has a wide range of adventure activities on offer for all seasons.

“Almost every village in Switzerland make its own wine in a traditional way but many Indians don't know about it as much as they know about French or Italian wine,” Sharma said.

In 2008, Switzerland Tourism came up with ad campaigns in print and television media to promote to various adventures and activities that Switzerland has on offer. However, the campaign was not a big success.

“In India nothing works like a sledgehammer and for Indians, the sledgehammer is Bollywood so we decided to rope Ranveer Singh as our brand ambassador in 2016,” Sharma said.

Switzerland witnessed a boom in overnight stays by Indian tourists after that. Thanks to Ranveer’s paragliding and skydiving adventure campaigns in Zurich, Lucerne and Interlaken, destinations often frequented by Indian tourists.

However, after hitting a peak of 25 per cent growth in overnight stays in 2016, the jump in Indian tourists’ overnights in Switzerland dropped to 23 per cent in 2017 and fell further to 9.8 per cent in 2018.

Switzerland is part of the Schengen area, comprising 26 European states that have officially abolished all passport and other types of border control. Hence Switzerland measures tourism growth in terms of ‘overnights’ in hotels and not through ‘arrivals’.

“Every five years when there is an election in May there will be a slowdown. But this year it has worsened because of the Jet Airways crisis in April,” Sharma said, adding that the airline was operating approximately 10-12 daily flights to Europe carrying approximately 2,000 Indians.

Summer in Switzerland starts in June and extends until September followed by Autumn between September and early December. Winter begins in December and extends till March while Spring starts in March and will last till June.

“So May-June, which are the peak tourist months, became the worst time to travel this year. Due to a capacity crunch, airline fares were 50-100% higher during the months and continue to be 20 per cent higher even today,” Sharma added.

Noting that Indians are reluctant to visit Switzerland in winter, Sharma said that right from the bus and train to cable car, everything in Switzerland is centrally heated and there is a need to educate people about it.

“Switzerland is essentially a 365-day destination. For instance, in India we don’t have Autumn but you need to go to a place like Switzerland to see the colour of Autumn,” Sharma said.

As of July this year, Switzerland saw over 8 lakh Indian tourists and it expects to welcome more than one million tourists by 2020.

“Our goal is to grow by 10 per cent year-on-year but this year it seems difficult,” Sharma added.

Switzerland Tourism is in talks with Tamil film production houses to help them with location hunting and next year it is also planning to shoot South Indian television soaps in Switzerland.

In 2017, Switzerland Tourism launched a summer campaign called ‘Nature wants you back’ focussed on natural lovers.

“All over the world winter and summer comes at a different time so we have decided to come up with a single campaign for all seasons, Sharma said.

The campaign for the next year will be ‘You need Switzerland’.

Published on September 27, 2019

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