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Switzerland Tourism ST has been covering the USA from its representation office in New York since 1908 and from San Francisco since 1947. The offices have a total of 17 employees (incl. four trainees) . Meanwhile, a representation office in Toronto has been looking after Canadian guests since 1973. According to the Federal Statistical Office, in 2018 guests from the USA once again accounted for the third-highest number of overnight hotel stays in Switzerland, with 206,321. That is 10.1% more than in the previous year. Swiss and German guests are in first and third place respectively. US guests’ favourite region is Zurich. On average, a visitor from the USA spends CHF 280 per day, which is the sixth-highest amount. Guests from the GCC market spend the most, averaging CHF 420. Alex Herrmann, Director Americas, gives an insight into why US citizens travel to Switzerland for their holidays and tells more about this visitor group.
These are the five most popular tourism regions among US guests according to the 2018 figures for overnight hotel stays from the Federal Statistical Office.
“Visitors from the USA are spending around 30% more per day than they did five years ago.”
Alex Herrmann, in your capacity as Director Americas, do you know what US visitors want when they come to Switzerland for their holidays?
It is my job to know what they want. Guests from the US primarily want to experience the Swiss Alps – be it gazing at the mountains through a train window, ascending a peak by mountain railway, on foot or by bike, or staying in a city and marvelling at the panorama from a distance. In recent years, overnight stays in mountain regions have experienced the strongest growth. The guests also cherish our history, culture and traditions as well as the fact that, in such a small country, all of these vary from region to region.
Has the behaviour of these visitors changed over the years?
The typical American visitor used to travel across the whole of Europe in eight days by coach. “It’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium,” was the running joke. Today, far more US visitors choose a river cruise as their mode of transport. And many who go on a trip along the Rhine spend a few days in Switzerland beforehand or afterwards. Coach tours are now made up of smaller groups, and the emphasis is placed on experiences rather than just excursions. In addition, the number of individual travellers is increasing. In general, visitors want to be more active and learn more about Switzerland, its cultures and its traditions. Visitors from the USA are spending around 30% more per day than they did five years ago (TMS 2017). That means they can afford more, stay at better hotels, spend more at restaurants and go on more trips.
What has changed in the way you advertise Switzerland to them?
To attract active travellers, we are working with new partners. Last year, for instance, we carried out a cycling campaign with a number of bike sharing organisations in the USA and Canada to appeal to their members and users. These are people who essentially are more active and like to exercise when on holiday, too. Switzerland is the ideal destination for that.
You regularly invite US journalists on press trips. What is it in particular that makes these trips a success?
Journalists like to find their own stories. They need the freedom to do that. Nowadays, it is vital to leave enough time for participants to report what they are experiencing on social media, too. Journalists also like meeting people who can present their region, their craft or their restaurant with passion.
What is the main reason for the constant growth in overnight hotel stays that we have been seeing for nearly ten years now?
There are various reasons: in addition to the huge popularity of river cruises and the increase in visitors opting for active holidays involving hiking or cycling for instance, economic factors in the USA and the greater number of direct flights have also played a part. In recent years, there has been greater-than-average growth in overnight stays, especially in the higher hotel categories. Travel agencies can have a big influence here. Often, they know their customers well, as they have been advising them for many years, so they can recommend the appropriate travel destinations to them. Switzerland Tourism has earned a very good reputation among these demanding “multipliers”, and this was recognised once again in 2018 when we won the “Tourism Board of the Year” award in North America. This was the third time in the last five years that Switzerland Tourism was chosen for an award by the hundreds of agencies in the leading luxury agency network Virtuoso.