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Harsh winter ahead for Swiss tourism sector

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Harsh winter ahead for Swiss tourism sector
Visitor figures are down in the majestic Swiss Alps (Photo: Switzerland Tourism/Robert Boesch).
17:34 CET+01:00
The Swiss tourism industry is bracing for another difficult winter season, fresh figures showed on Tuesday, amid calls for Swiss citizens to head back to the slopes to make up for dwindling numbers of foreign tourists.

For the 2012-2013 season, the number of hotel nights in Switzerland is expected to slip by another 0.9 percent on average, after dropping 3.1 percent over the summer and 3.8 percent last winter, Richard Kampf, who is head of tourism at Switzerland's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), told reporters in Zurich on Tuesday.

The country's majestic Alp region -- its main winter draw for ski enthusiasts -- has been especially hard hit by dropping visitor numbers in recent years, with the number of hotel nights there plunging 14 percent since 2008, according to SECO.

Mainly to blame is a sharp fall in the number of foreign tourists as the global economic crisis make it difficult for many to visit one of the world's most expensive countries.

This year, as a strong Swiss franc makes visiting the country even more pricey, hotels are expecting to see the number of hotel nights booked by foreigners slide 4.4 percent.

Switzerland Tourism, the country's national tourist office, said on Tuesday the solution was to coax Swiss nationals back to the ski slopes to make up for dwindling revenue from foreigners.

Back in the 1960s "everyone skied in Switzerland. It was really a national sport," Switzerland Tourism chief Jürg Schmid told reporters.

A half a century later "the world has changed" and the ski stations are today filled mainly with tourists who don't ski but simply want to "decompress," he lamented.

The high cost of skiing classes as well as a shifting make-up of Swiss society can explain why fewer Swiss residents make it to the slopes, experts say.

Switzerland boasts an increasing proportion of immigrants who do not necessarily consider skiing a cultural must.

Analysts also cite the growing popularity of holidaying in the sun during winter breaks.

The RMS union representing ski-lift operators aims to turn that trend around, and has created a youth skiing camp programme targeting children between the ages of 10 and 12.

"If we want to create faithful young skiers, they have to start skiing before they turn 12," RMS chief Ueli Stückelberger told reporters, lamenting a significant drop in the number of ski camps provided by Swiss schools in recent years.

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