In 2019, Switzerland recorded a historic high in tourism. At that time, the sector directly contributed 2.9% to the GVA and directly employed 173 703 people, with full-time equivalents corresponding to 4.2% of total employment. In 2020, tourism’s contribution to GVA dropped to 2.2%, and direct employment fell to 162 766 (full-time equivalents), a 6.3% decrease.

In 2019, there were 11.8 million international tourists, which fell to 3.7 million in 2020. In 2021, there was a slight increase in demand, but international tourists still remained 63.0% below pre-pandemic levels at 4.4 million. The top source markets shifted to neighbouring countries. In 2021, Germany represented 33.1% of international overnight stays in Switzerland (compared to 18.8% in 2019), followed by France with 14.2% (7.0% in 2019).

The number of hotel nights fell by 40% to 23.7 million in 2020 (with international nights down 66% and domestic nights down just 8.6%). City tourism was particularly hard hit, with overnights plummeting by around 60% in 2020. Switzerland has recorded strong domestic tourism numbers, driven by its Alpine destinations. Total domestic tourist nights hit 34.3 million in 2021, a 16.8% increase compared to pre-pandemic levels.

An inbound tourism recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels is expected in 2023-24.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), interacting with numerous political bodies at a national and regional level, is responsible for designing and implementing Switzerland’s tourism policy. SECO enforces the Federal Act on the Promotion of Innovation, Cooperation and Knowledge Building in Tourism (Innotour) and supervises two associations tasked with implementing various tourism-related measures: Switzerland Tourism carries out marketing activities relating to Swiss tourism, and the Swiss Society for Hotel Credit supports investment in the accommodation sector.

As tourism is an important economic contributor in many cantons, each has a tourism office with promotion carried out at the cantonal level. The Swiss Tourism Forum facilitates a close exchange between the central government, the cantons and tourism stakeholders. The central government and the cantons promote the mountain region, urban and rural areas and the border regions.

For the years 2020-23, the regular federal contribution to Switzerland Tourism amounts to CHF 230 million. CHF 30 million in regular funds is available over the same period via Innotour to promote innovation. The promotional activities of the Swiss Society for Hotel Credit (SGH) are based on a standing federal loan of CHF 236 million. Within the New Regional Policy framework, CHF 200 million in loans is available for investment and CHF 120 million for contributions to projects with regional economic impact.

Switzerland approved the updated and renewed Tourism Strategy in November 2021. This Strategy draws on the previous tourism strategy and retains a number of objectives:

  • Improve framework conditions focuses on the co-ordination of tourism policy. The Swiss Tourism Forum serves as a dialogue and co-ordination platform contributing to a ‘tourism-friendly’ regulatory environment, focusing on the interface between tourism and spatial planning.

  • Promote entrepreneurship: aims to contribute to structural change in tourism. Start-ups are promoted, succession plans are supported, and approaches to strengthen the tourism labour market are developed in co-operation with industry associations.

  • Contribute to sustainable development: focuses on adapting tourism to tackle climate change, particularly by better understanding the interface between tourism, landscape and development. Under the “Swisstainable” initiative, the importance of sustainable development for tourism is anchored more broadly.

  • Maximise the opportunities of digitalisation: focuses on data and statistics as well as the monitoring of digitalisation strategy.

  • Strengthen the attractiveness of the offer and market presence: focuses on the further development of federal investment promotion and the revitalisation of city and business tourism.

An Advisory Group consisting of tourism stakeholders and entrepreneurs, as well as political representatives, tourism associations, the cantons and the academic community, will oversee the implementation of the national Tourism Strategy.

Switzerland Tourism continues implementing a recovery plan in 2020-23 (see box below). The Federal Government is providing CHF 70 million for the programme in total (CHF 40 million for 2020-21 and CHF 30 million for 2022-23). Half of the funding will be used to provide financial relief to tourism partners. Through the New Regional Policy, Switzerland allowed the cantons to defer repayments under the Investment Assistance Act, which made it possible to support the mountain railway sector in the short term. In addition, funds of CHF 10 million are made available for project promotion via the New Regional Policy for the period 2020-23.

The promotion of innovative projects in tourism through Innotour is also to be extended for the period 2023-26. The Federal Government's contribution to such projects will increase from 50% to a new maximum of 70%, reducing the costs for innovation in tourism to be borne by the project promoters. For this, the contribution of the Federal Government to Innotour will be increased by CHF 20 million.

In the coming years, Switzerland’s tourism policy will be increasingly orientated towards the needs of tourism stakeholders, particularly tourism enterprises. Implementation of the strategy will focus on the identified challenges - in particular, the adaptation of tourism to climate change and raising the potential of the interface between tourism, landscape and building culture, and the issue of the tourism labour market. A further focus will be on developing federal investment promotion to modernise and strengthen investment promotion.

Strategic challenges for Swiss tourism in the long term include digitalisation, changing travel behaviour, climate change, below-average productivity and the tourism labour market. Digitalisation can help address the weakness of Swiss tourism (such as the low productivity of many micro-businesses) by increasing efficiency and promoting new forms of co-operation and co-ordination.

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