In 2018, tourism contributed 2.9% to Swiss GDP and employed 181 700 people (full-time equivalents), corresponding to 4.4% of total employment. International travel receipts were CHF 16.6 billion, representing 4.1% of total exports. Travel exports accounted for 13.4% of total service exports in 2018.

In 2018, 11.7 million international tourists were recorded, registering 21.4 million overnight stays. This figure represents 55.1% of the national 38.8 million overnight stays registered in the hotel sector – a record high. Compared to the previous year, nights in hotel establishments by international tourists increased by 4.5%.

The most important foreign source market remains Germany, representing 18.9% of international overnight tourists. Between 2008 and 2017, the number of nights taken by German tourists dropped each year, driven in part by the strong Swiss franc. However, in 2018, the number of nights from Germany has increased (+6.9%). Another important trend is the number of overnight stays taken by tourists from the United States: from 2011 growth has been consistent, rising from 1.5 million to 2.3 million overnight stays in 2018, a 51% increase. Consequently, the United States now represents the second most important source market after Germany.

Domestic tourism has also shown growth each year since 2013, with a record high of 17.4 million nights in hotels and similar establishments 2018.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) is responsible for the development and implementation of Switzerland’s tourism policy. SECO enforces the Federal Act on the Promotion of Innovation, Co-operation and Knowledge Building in Tourism (Innotour) and supervises two associations tasked with implementing tourism measures: Switzerland Tourism carries out marketing activities relating to Swiss tourism and the Swiss Society for Hotel Credit supports investment in the accommodation sector.

Numerous political bodies at both national and regional levels influence the delivery of tourism policy, including various industry organisations. Federal tourism policy and its levers are subsidiary to the work of the cantons, local authorities and tourism-related industries. Maintaining dialogue within the Federal Administration, between the cantons and with tourist actors and associations is fundamental to the development of the industry. In that light, Tourism Forum Switzerland (TFS) was established to provide a platform for dialogue and co-ordination and allow co-operation across the sector. Broadly diversified, often temporary, working groups consisting of representatives of the private sector, cantons, communes and the Federal Administration, meet regularly to discuss current challenges and potential improvements. At the Forum’s main event in November, the results of the working groups are gathered and presented, and the priorities for the following year are discussed.

In 2019, CHF 60.5 million were available for national tourism policies. Of this, CHF 52.8 million went to Switzerland Tourism. A further CHF 7.5 million was available for supporting Innotour. For the period 2020–23, the Parliament has allocated about CHF 57.5 million annually for Switzerland Tourism and CHF 7.5 million for Innotour. The Swiss Society for Hotel Credit is supported by the Confederation with an existing interest-free long-term loan of some CHF 230 million.

Swiss tourism is facing major challenges including rising costs, rapidly changing market trends, climate change, difficulties in recruitment and rising standards of digitalisation. To address these challenges, the Confederation published a new tourism strategy in 2017, with a vision for Switzerland to be an attractive and productive tourist destination with an internationally competitive tourism sector. For the years 2020 – 2023, the policy priority in Switzerland is the implementation of this tourism strategy. With a core focus on digital transformation, the strategy has four principal objectives:

  • Improving the framework conditions for tourism. Prioritisation is geared towards improving the way in which the government’s tourism policy is co-ordinated to maximise synergies. A second focus lies in providing a tourism-friendly regulatory environment. To do so, regulations will be streamlined where possible and processes and procedures at federal level simplified.

  • Promoting entrepreneurship with a focus on increasing productivity, boosting workforce skills and competencies, supporting structural change and strengthening the tourism labour market.

  • Exploiting the opportunities presented by the digital economy. A comprehensive study has analysed the challenges, opportunities and implications of digitalisation giving a robust basis for action. In 2019, Switzerland Tourism’s new online platform MySwitzerland.com was launched. With its launch, an important goal set out in the tourism strategy has been achieved.

  • Enhancing the attractiveness of the tourism offer and boosting market presence. The focus is on the development of large-scale sports and major MICE related events, such as world expos, as well as an assessment of the types of investment policies that can assist tourism.

Entrepreneurial thinking and action are decisive factors for successful tourism which is why promoting entrepreneurship is one of the main goals of the strategy. Collaboration with Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency, has resulted in an analysis of how typical tourism businesses are formed and how they can best be supported. This identified the main challenges that companies in the tourism sector typically face in their start-up phase. Key messages from the analysis were that business creation stimulates competition and supports structural change, market failure justifies the State’s support for entrepreneurship, and, in Switzerland, a comprehensive support system is already provided. Various recommendations were made for improvement: for example, to improve the clarity of and the accessibility to support instruments; to design support for business creation using a network approach; to anchor entrepreneurship into apprenticeships and other educational opportunities, and to improve statistical data related to business creation. On the basis of these recommendations, SECO developed various measures. One is strengthened co-operation between SECO and Innosuisse, to ensure that Innosuisse's support is known and used by more of the private sector. Another step to boost business creation is to use Tourism Forum Switzerland as a platform for the promotion of start-up activities.

A Tourism Policy Advisory Group was established in 2017 to aid the development and implementation of the tourism strategy. The group, led by SECO, meets twice a year and serves as a sounding board. It has a balanced membership of entrepreneurs, tourism organisations, policy-makers and academics. The Group is informed about the state of current work, consulted regarding key activities and gives concrete advice as regards the development of future policy. The dialogue ensures that emerging trends and issues are fully understood and necessary policy action is taken.

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