With interest in winter sports growing, more tourists heading to Switzerland

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/1/11 18:53:39

Swiss bliss

Switzerland has been an attractive destination for Chinese tourists in recent years, especially due to their growing interest in winter sports after Beijing won the rights to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, according to a report by the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce. With China's ski industry expected to grow rapidly over the next five to 10 years, there will be greater demand for trips to ski destinations such as Switzerland. Although terror attacks in Europe in 2016 dampened enthusiasm for traveling to the country, industry representatives are optimistic that it will continue to be a desirable destination.

A woman skies down a slope at a resort in the Swiss Alps on January 2. Photo: CFP

A woman skies down a slope at a resort in the Swiss Alps on January 2. Photo: CFP

A 30-year-old employee at a financial institution surnamed Xu is taking his family on a nine-day trip to Switzerland on January 28.

"I spent 100,000 yuan ($14,443) on a custom tour, including stays in the traditional Swiss resort towns of Interlaken and Zermatt," he told the Global Times on Monday.

High-end tour packages are Xu's top choice when planning a vacation for the Spring Festival holidays, which start on January 27. Switzerland has greater appeal because of its reputation for being not only beautiful, but also safe.

"The reason we did not consider other popular European destinations such as France and Germany was because we are still worried about possible terror attacks," he said, noting that Switzerland has not suffered an attack so far.

Major Chinese travel agencies have seen double-digit growth in the number of Chinese visiting Switzerland in recent years, though the terror attacks in 2016 hurt growth rates.

The number of Chinese tourists traveling to Switzerland surged by 40 percent in 2015, said Shi Yuduan, chief marketing officer of domestic travel service provider Ctrip's tourism business department.

Although the growth rate dipped in 2016 due to the terror attacks elsewhere in Europe, it will rebound during the Spring Festival holidays in 2017, he told the Global Times on Tuesday. The number of tourists is expected to be 50 percent higher than it was during the holiday season in 2015.

Skiing's ascent

The Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SwissCham) has predicted that the 2022 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Beijing will spur more interest in winter sports in China, where the market is already worth an estimated $800 billion, according to the 2016 China Economic Report released by SwissCham in August 2016. China's ski industry is expected to grow rapidly over the next five to 10 years.

SwissCham predicted 170 million Chinese tourists will be traveling overseas by 2020, and 300 million will be vacationing abroad by 2030. It sees an increasing number of those opting for winter sport destinations, according to the report.

Xu said he's open to the idea of skiing.

"Although we did not specifically plan to ski there, there are definitely some popular spots for skiing, and I would love to give it a shot," he said.

Targeting China's newly established middle class, some Chinese travel agencies have come up with custom ski trips to Switzerland.

At the end of 2016, CAISSA Travel Management Co and the Swiss National Tourist Office released a ski strategy report that detailed the history and culture of skiing, and the travel agency has teamed up with the Swiss authority to promote ski destinations including Zermatt and Jungfraujoch to Chinese ski lovers.

Switzerland has always been the first choice for Chinese tourists, said Yin Ming, manager of European tourism at the Chinese online travel agency Tuniu. The average cost of each of its packages to Switzerland is about 20,000 yuan.

Middle-class Chinese can find more value in a ski trip to Japan, said a 30-year-old white-collar worker in Beijing surnamed Shang.

"It's usually 50 percent cheaper than a ski trip to Switzerland; the snow is better than in Switzerland, and it's closer," Shang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Shang usually spends about 1,000 yuan for a weekend ski trip to Chongli, a town in North China's Hebei Province that will host most of the skiing events of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, he said. It is a popular choice for many ski lovers in Beijing. Chongli is about 220 kilometers away from Beijing.

Growth source: China

Although Chinese demand for European destinations took a hit after the latest terror attacks in France and Germany, it is expected to recover in three months, said Xu Xiaolei, manager of marketing at China CYTS Tours Holding Co. "Chinese people still want to travel to the EU countries," Xu told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Chinese tourists made 122 million individual trips overseas in 2016, up 4.3 percent year-on-year, according to data the China National Tourism Administration released on January 9.

In addition, more than 6 million Chinese are expected to travel abroad during the upcoming Spring Festival holidays, surpassing the record of 2016, according to a report by Beijing Daily in December 2016.

In 2015, 12 million tourists from the Chinese mainland visited Europe. They stayed one to three nights in each country they visited for a combined 40 million nights, according to a report published by the European Commission in January 2016. It forecast that the number of tourists increased 7 percent and the number of nights stayed rose by 9 percent in 2016.

Moreover, China will become one of the largest sources of growth for Europe's travel market, accounting for more than half of the increase in international arrivals between 2010 and 2020 from countries outside the EU, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

To maintain that growth, European countries such as Switzerland should make themselves more accessible to Chinese speakers, Xu said. He suggested Switzerland could install road signs in Chinese characters now that more and more Chinese tourists are willing to drive themselves around the countries they visit, and the official languages of German and French are challenging for them to learn.

"Also, it may be inconvenient for some tourists to exchange euros for Swiss Francs, but these small things are unlikely to dampen Chinese enthusiasm for this winter wonderland," he said.



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