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Ticino tourist sector has 'real fears' over effect of burqa ban

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Ticino tourist sector has 'real fears' over effect of burqa ban
Muslim campaigner Nora Illi has already been fined under the new law. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini
13:00 CEST+02:00
Hoteliers in the canton of Ticino are holding their breath to see if the recent ban on the burqa will have an effect on tourism from Arab countries.

The ban – which forbids the wearing of the Islamic face veil (niqab) or full-length burqa in public places in the canton – was voted for by the public in 2013 and came into force on July 1st this year.

Those who flout the new law are liable for a fine of between 100 and 1,000 francs ($102-$1,016), with that figure rising to 10,000 francs ($10,170) for a second offence.

The canton has already issued its first two fines, one for Nora Illi, a Swiss woman and member of the Islamic Central Council Switzerland, who is accused of deliberately flouting the ban in protest last week.

Around 45,000 tourists from the Gulf States visited Ticino last year, Ticino Tourism told The Local.

Given the ban does not exclude tourists, some in Ticino’s tourism sector are worried these figures could drop.

Quoted by the Tribune de Genève, Luca Albertoni, president of Ticino’s chamber of commerce, said the ban had added to the already uncertain economic climate within the sector.

“I don’t question the substance of the popular vote, but we must take into account that negative consequences cannot be ruled out”.

“For the hotel and commercial sectors, already hit by difficulties, these are real fears,” he added.

Speaking to The Local, Antonella Archidiacano, a spokeswoman from the five star Villa Castagnola in Lugano, said it was “difficult to say” what the long-term impact of the ban would be, but that the hotel had already had one cancellation because of it.

“It was a repeat customer. He said he doesn’t want his wife to stay in the hotel all the time, he wants her to feel free to go shopping, which is quite understandable,” she said

Archidiacano stressed that the Gulf States were “a very important market for us,” adding that she thought most people in tourism were against the ban.

In a statement, Ticino Tourism said the consequences of the ban were “difficult to estimate”.

“Female guests who want to cover their faces will in the future probably avoid travelling to Ticino,” it said, but pointed out this shouldn’t make a huge difference, given “only a small proportion of these guests are wearing a burqa or niqab.”  

“Ticino Tourism maintains its strategy, stating that guests from the Gulf States are welcome in Ticino and, in cooperation with Switzerland Tourism and various local partners, continues to be active in the Gulf countries in order to attract more guests from these countries,” it added.

Any worries in the sector were dismissed by politician Giorgio Ghiringhelli, who instigated the public initiative that led to the burqa ban, as “tourist terrorism aiming to influence political decisions”.

Back in 2009 many people thought Muslim tourists would boycott Switzerland over its controversial ban on minarets, he said, but “on the contrary their presence only increased”.

What's more, he added, the vote to ban the burqa "made headlines around the world and brought considerable free publicity for Ticino and Switzerland”.

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