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TOURISM

Europe’s largest freshwater aquarium opens in Lausanne

More than 6,500 people rushed to visit Lausanne’s new attraction, Aquatis, on its opening weekend.

Europe’s largest freshwater aquarium opens in Lausanne
Photo: Sedrik Nemeth
Europe’s largest freshwater aquarium-vivarium opened on Saturday, October 21st, after 15 years in the planning. 
 
The attendance figures “went beyond our hopes. We are very happy,” director Angélique Vallée-Sygut told news agency ATS.
 
Aquatis is the first tourist attraction in Switzerland dedicated to ecosystems and sustainable development. Showcasing freshwater environments across the planet, it aims to “stimulate reflection and a new awareness among visitors of the importance of protecting aquatic environments”, says the aquarium’s website. 
 
Photo: Sedrik Nemeth
 
The aquarium is spread over 3,500m2 and two floors, comprising a permanent exhibition and two temporary exhibition spaces.
 
The first floor is dedicated to Europe, including the Swiss Alps, the Rhône area and the Mediterranean. 
 
Upstairs, visitors can discover freshwater environments from other continents, including the Mekong river, the Amazon, the Congo and African lakes. 
 
Aquatis comprises 46 separate tanks and will, when fully stocked, be home to 10,000 fish and around 100 reptiles and amphibians, of 200 different species.
 
Currently the aquarium is missing around a quarter of its inhabitants, according to La Tribune de Genève
 
Some rare fish are still in quarantine, while others can only be transported in cold weather, said the paper.
 
Located in the Vennes area of Lausanne, the aquarium is part of a complex that also includes a hotel. Building work on the complex started in 2013 and the Aquatis Hotel & Conference Centre opened in 2015. 
 
The aquarium hopes to welcome 450,000 visitors a year.
 
Tickets are 29 francs per adult and 19 francs per child. Children under five go free.
 
Photo: Sedrik Nemeth
 

TOURISM

Season saved for Swiss ski resorts as quarantine is lifted

Switzerland's ski resorts breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday, as the government lifted quarantine restrictions imposed due to the Omicron variant, which had triggered an avalanche of booking cancellations.

Season saved for Swiss ski resorts as quarantine is lifted
Skiers on the slopes near the Matterhorn near Zermatt. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The wealthy Alpine nation had slapped 10-days’ quarantine on anyone flying in from countries where the new Covid-19 variant of concern had been detected, in a bid to stop its spread. That included Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands — the three main sources of tourists heading to the Swiss slopes.

The crackdown had threatened to wreck the vital Christmas period for a seasonal sector struggling to recover from the pandemic’s impact last winter.

“It is a huge relief that the quarantine requirement, which was a de facto travel ban, has been dropped,” the Swiss tourism agency said.

READ ALL: Switzerland to scrap quarantine requirement for all arrivals

Instead, travellers must do a PCR test before arrival in Switzerland, plus a second test four to seven days later.

The tourist agency welcomed the testing-only system, saying people were already familiar with tests and “they give guests a feeling of security and remove uncertainties when planning visits”.

The quarantine requirement was first imposed on November 26, but Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset announced Friday that it was being removed from Saturday onwards.

“It no longer makes sense to maintain quarantine for people coming from countries where this variant is circulating because it’s also circulating here,” he said.

The impact of the quarantine requirement had been immediate. Planning had become “impossible”, said Sabrina Marcolin, spokeswoman for the tourist office in Zermatt, Switzerland’s busiest ski resort, in the shadow of the country’s iconic Matterhorn mountain.

“Bookings for the winter season were really great… almost back to normal” before the quarantine rule came in, she said.

It instantly affected “everybody: the ski schools, the restaurants, the ski lifts. We are a destination that pretty much lives from tourism,” she said.

50% drop in 48 hours

Ski schools saw their reservations plummet. “We lost 50 percent of our bookings in 48 hours,” said Maxime Riviera, director of the Alpine Ski School, which employs 35 instructors. “It is mainly the British who have cancelled. They are a major customer base in Zermatt.”

Others, who saw the situation becoming more complicated, also pulled out, he added.

Riviera lost 60 percent of his annual turnover last year, when in late December, quarantine was retroactively imposed on British tourists who had already arrived in Switzerland, due to the emergence of the Alpha variant.

The festive period accounts for a third of the winter season turnover, and Riviera hopes at least to break even this time around.

Three days before the government lifted the quarantine requirement, the HotellerieSuisse hotel industry body sounded the alarm about the surge in cancellations it had caused.

It too voiced its relief Friday, calling it an “important signal” for the British, Dutch and Belgian markets.

“HotellerieSuisse calls on the government not to impose any more unexpected and unnecessary travel restrictions in the coming months in order to guarantee planning security for guests and establishments in an already fragile situation,” it said.

Many British tour operators specialising in ski holidays pulled back from Swiss breaks.

Quarantine forced Inghams, a subsidiary of Hotelplan, to suspended all December departures to Switzerland. It offered customers the option to postpone their booking or cancel with a full refund.

Beforehand, bookings to Switzerland this winter had been strong and accounted for around six percent of holidays in their winter programme, the company said in a statement.

British, Belgian and Dutch tourists are “very loyal” customers to the Wallis and Bernese Oberland regions, and major resorts like Davos and Saint Moritz, “especially during the Christmas holidays”, said Andreas Zullig, HotellerieSuisse president.

They stay an average of seven to 14 nights, he added. Many hotels hope to achieve up to a quarter of their turnover during the
busy holiday season, thanks to Christmas and New Year bookings and peak rates.

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