Tourism in the economy

Tourism is an important pillar of the Swiss economy. In 2016, around 165 675 people (full-time equivalents) worked in the tourism industry, corresponding to 4.1% of total employment. Tourism contributed 2.6% to Swiss GDP in 2016.

There were a total of 10.4 million inbound overnight visitors in 2016. In the same year, international travel receipts were CHF 16.0 billion (up 1.4%), representing 3.7% of total exports.

In 2016, a total of 35.5 million nights were registered in hotels and similar establishments. Nearly 55% of total nights were taken by guests from abroad. Compared to the previous year, foreign demand fell by 1.5%, while there was a rise in domestic demand of 1.2% resulting in a slight overall decrease of 0.3%.

The most important source market remains Germany, representing 17.6% of international arrivals; however, the number of nights taken by German guests has continued a downward trend in recent years, driven in part by the strong Swiss franc. Moreover, there has been a sharp decline in the number of nights attributable to guests from China (down 18% in 2016), after several years of sustained growth. Total nights spent in hotels and similar establishment by those from the Gulf States, the Republic of Korea and the United States increased in 2016.

Tourism governance and funding

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) is responsible for executing Swiss national tourism policy and for implementing the Federal Act on the Promotion of Innovation, Co-operation and Knowledge Building in Tourism (Innotour). Numerous political bodies at a national and regional level influence delivery of the policy, including various industry organisations.

The Confederation has two associations tasked with implementing various tourism-related measures:

  • Switzerland Tourism (ST) carries out marketing activities relating to Swiss tourism. In February 2017, a completely revised regulation came into effect, enabling further development of Switzerland Tourism and strengthening the Confederation’s supervisory role,

  • The Swiss Society for Hotel Credit (SGH) supports investments in the accommodation sector and provides consultancy services at market prices.

In 2016, CHF 60.6 million were available for national tourism policies. Of this, by far the largest part (CHF 52.7 million) was the contribution to Switzerland Tourism. CHF 7.5 million was available in 2016 for financing promotion of innovation, co-operation and knowledge building in tourism. This was higher than in previous years because an increase in funds of CHF 2.5 million a year for the four years from 2016 to 2019 has been made available to Innotour as a result of the stimulus programme. Budgets available for information and documentation activities, and also contributions to international organisations such as UNWTO, were lower than in recent years, standing at approximately CHF 350 000.

The stimulus programme 2016-2019 also included CHF 200 million for the New Regional Policy (NRP).

The Swiss Society for Hotel Credit (SGH) is supported by the Confederation with an existing interest-free loan of around CHF 136 million. For the years 2012 – 2015, SGH was granted an additional loan amounting to CHF 100 million. However, the Confederation provided no additional funds for SGH in 2016. Rather, in order to strengthen SGH’s financial scope, the additional loan to SGH was extended to 2019. By the end of 2016, SGH had used approximately CHF 43 million of the CHF 100 million loan.

Switzerland: Organisational chart of tourism bodies

Source: OECD, adapted from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), 2018.

Tourism policies and programmes

The 2013 Tourism Report analysed the structural situation of Swiss tourism and the future tourism strategy of the Federal Government. Tourism policy is implemented on the basis of four-year programmes and has been guided by this report.

Swiss tourism is facing major challenges including the strong Swiss franc, increasing pressure on competitiveness, rapidly changing guest requirements and high standards in the area of digitalisation. In response to these challenges, political support for tourism has led to a package of tourism policy measures since 2013. These include optimising promotion of the hotel industry and a stimulus programme for 2016-2019.

In 2017, an interim evaluation of the stimulus programme was carried out. Optimising promotion of the hotel industry has included modernising implementation regulations, increasing the financial scope of SGH, and improving coordination between SGH and the New Regional Policy (NRP). Implementation of the stimulus programme 2016-2019 under Innotour has been successfully initiated, with more than half of the increased funds already committed, and the quality of the projects considered impressive. Support for tourism under the New Regional Policy has started. However, demand for funds from the stimulus programme was restrained in the first year of implementation.

In 2017, Switzerland’s Federal Council has adopted a new tourism strategy developed by SECO on behalf of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER). An advisory group has been established to guide and support the work of SECO and to ensure that the new tourism strategy has broad support. It comprises representatives from political interests, the tourism associations, the Swiss cantons, and academics, as well as selected actors and entrepreneurs from the tourism sector.

The new tourism strategy is the Federal Council’s contribution to creating an internationally competitive tourism industry and transforming Switzerland into an attractive and productive tourism location. Policy is geared towards improving the framework conditions for providers in the tourism sector, seizing the opportunities of digitalisation, increasing promotion of entrepreneurship, and strengthening the attractiveness of the tourism offering and presence in the market. The four existing instruments, Innotour, ST, SGH and the NRP, are available for implementation of the tourism policy.

These are the main new aspects promoted by the Confederation’s tourism strategy:

  • Setting focal points: the new tourism strategy does not list all of the activities of the Confederation related to tourism. The cross-section nature of the tourism policy is particularly emphasised.

  • Streamlining the use of funds: the existing funds are used in a more streamlined manner with closer co-operation with the projects, wherever useful and possible. The reconciliation of funding instruments is optimised to exploit synergies and prevent repeat actions.

  • Digitalisation: the policy promotes the exploitation of the opportunities provided by digitalisation. It focuses on supporting the digital transformation of business processes and models as well as market cultivation.

  • Focus on implementation: the new tourism strategy is designed with operations in mind, is flexible and contains specific implementation activities. As a result, it is possible to quickly adjust the tourism policy to meet changing requirements and conditions in the market if and when required.

The Confederation’s tourism strategy consists of eight areas of activity with one or two sub-areas each. Coordination and co-operation is a key area of activity. The new tourism strategy strengthens the coordination of the Confederation’s tourism policy, with the primary focus being to develop the Tourismus Forum Schweiz (Tourism Forum Switzerland) into a platform for dialogue and coordination. The aim is to create temporary, broadly diversified work groups comprised of representatives of the tourism industry, cantons, municipalities and Federal Administration. The topic- and project-specific co-operation within these work groups aims to identify targeted challenges and develop optional actions and approaches to solutions.

As previously mentioned, digitalisation plays a key role. One of the areas of activity therefore deals with the digital transformation of business processes and models. In 2017, SECO therefore launched an intensive digitisation campaign in the tourism industry, which boosts the required digital transformation of business processes and models in the tourism industry. When implementing the new tourism strategy, the focus is to remain on heavily promoting digitisation projects and the transfer of knowledge. The activities focus on further developing existing data and statistics. The extrapolation and utilisation of new data (e.g. on the behaviour of guests) is also to be reviewed.

Similarly, the digital transformation of the market cultivation process is also a priority activity. Tourists’ requirements change quickly and the number of marketing and diffusion channels is rising all the time, thus continuously increasing the challenges faced by marketing. The main focus is on the further development of the MySwitzerland web platform by Switzerland Tourism by 2019.

Statistical profile

Table 1. Switzerland: Domestic, inbound and outbound tourism


Table 2. Switzerland: Enterprises and employment in tourism


Table 3. Switzerland: Internal tourism consumption
Million CHF