Nature-based sports tourism has long been among Switzerland’s core tourism products, with seasonal sports like skiing and biking anchoring its branding as an ‘active sports destination’.
Switzerland, which has enjoyed traction with the sporting crowd, saw tourist arrivals to ski destinations comprising between 29-34% of total arrivals across a three-year period from 2015 to 2017, according to Visa’s February Travel Insights report.
But for visitors who aren’t looking to get active, Switzerland is hoping that a half-day, one-stop experience will nudge visitors to pick up the pace. First-timers can start with a half-day ‘First Ski Experience’ that provides ski equipment, instructors and admission tickets at any one of 24 resorts, or go on an ‘easy’ biking tour through nature with starting packages of short 30- to 40 km trails lasting up to four hours for small groups.
SwitzerlandMobility, the country’s federal joint venture responsible for coordinating and promoting summer and winter activities for leisure and tourism, offers detailed information and maps for cross country slopes and trails for winter hiking and sledge-riding.
Having diversified into entry-level sport tourism offerings, Switzerland hopes that high-growing long-haul destinations like China, which has risen to become the world’s largest outbound market by volume, will jump on.
“China has developed very strongly over the past twenty years and has become the third most important foreign market by absolute numbers,” said Simon Bosshart, director, Switzerland Tourism (ST) at ITB China.
In 2017, visitors from Greater China (inclusive of Taiwan and Hong Kong) registered 1.63 million overnight stays, representing a 14% rise from 2016. This number is expected to climb to 2 million overnight stays by 2022, according to ST and Oxford Economics.
“Most Chinese tourists who come to stay in Switzerland for the winter do not come for skiing or active winter sports - that much is clear,” said Bosshart. But he sees potential with the rising number of Chinese visitors taking to its alpine destinations. To cater to this growing class of visitors, 13 ski resorts across Switzerland now offer lessons in Chinese.
Nature’s sights on two wheels
In summer, biking will headline Switzerland’s promotional campaign, ‘Nature wants you back’. Visitors can whiz along some 20,000 km of bike trails and be well-catered for at 60 hotels with specialised biking facilities.
While this begs the question of whether visitors will travel that far just to bike, a survey ST conducted with 20,000 respondents revealed that already, 20% of visitors were biking in the country. A majority of these are represented by easy ‘tour biking’, followed by mountain biking, and the niche speed biking market.
“While biking is not a mass-market product, we still want to reach more people, such as visitors who would like a two-hour ‘first bike experience’ in the mountains,” explained Bosshart.