Switzerland will not be overwhelmed this year by a wave of Chinese tourists. The demand is still very far from reaching the pre-covid level. Between January and April 2023, Chinese visitors – including Hong Kong and Taiwanese – accounted for around 123,000 hotel nights. This represents a drop of 68.1% compared to the same period of 2019, the last year not to have been hampered by the pandemic.

The recovery is proving slow, despite the lifting of health restrictions. In Lucerne, a city very popular with the Chinese before the pandemic, we strongly feel this drop in attendance. The number of visitors during the first four months of the year is down 87% compared to 2019. While the figures are up compared to last year, “we do not believe, however, that the market will recover significantly. substantial before 2024”, notes a spokesperson for Lucerne Tourism.

Read also: In charts: Ahead of Chinese travellers’ return, tourism numbers near record highs

How can this sluggish recovery be explained, when in 2019 China represented the third country of origin behind Germany and the United States with more than 1.8 million overnight stays? Beijing only ended its controversial zero covid policy in December. A timid recovery has begun since the reopening of China, after three years of some of the most draconian health restrictions in the world.

The Chinese tourism industry has been completely disrupted by the health crisis. The huge organized travel industry came to a complete halt during the pandemic and it is struggling to get back on the road. This slow recovery is explained in particular by “bottlenecks in air traffic, in the granting of visas, but also in the establishment of passports in China itself”, explains to the Time a spokeswoman for Switzerland Tourism.

Read also: Laurent Tissot, tourism historian: “There is a risk that travel will become a luxury for the privileged”

The visa challenge

China is very keen on trips to Europe, “but if you want to go to Switzerland now, you won’t be able to get your visa until mid-September,” notes a spokesperson for Geneva Tourism. Lack of flights and high airfare prices are holding back visitors, he notes. Additionally, fear of lack of health security, outside of China, continues to drive uncertainty when booking travel, slowing the recovery. Caution is still required in the face of the risk of being exposed to covid or other viruses.

As for aerial capabilities, they are gradually expanded. At Geneva airport, Air China will offer from July 14 four connections with Beijing per week, against three currently. “This adjustment aims to improve the convenience and flexibility of travel for passengers,” said the company, which resumed flights in February. “The resumption of activities continues at a steady pace and with progressive power. The occupancy rate is steadily increasing,” adds Geneva airport.

The Asian market “is becoming more and more normalized and we are satisfied with its evolution”, affirms for its part Swiss. For the current summer timetable, the company offers from Zurich three weekly flights to Shanghai and six flights to Hong Kong. For the next winter timetable, Swiss plans to increase frequencies to both cities. Shanghai will then be served six times a week and Hong Kong daily.

But professionals in the sector will have to be patient before Chinese tourism is running at full speed again. “We expect, from this summer, and this, very slowly, to welcome again a good number of visitors from China, but also from other countries in the Far East such as South Korea or Japan. . The recovery to the pre-pandemic level will still take years”, warns Switzerland Tourism.

More individual trips

This laborious restart is also accompanied by a change in the behavior of Chinese tourists. The promotion organization observes that “more and more often, they are opting for individual stays, tending more to choose Switzerland as their sole destination and for a longer period”. The trend to turn to domestic tourism and neighboring countries should also continue in the medium term.

The desertion of Chinese customers does not seem to harm the Swiss hotel industry too much. The branch recorded 17.4 million overnight stays during the winter tourist season (November 2022 to April 2023), the highest level ever observed.

The year 2023 will be that of Asian tourists, rather than that of Chinese, recently announced in the German-speaking press the director of Switzerland Tourism, Martin Nydegger. The Asian market also includes Japan, South Korea or Southeast Asian countries. Tourists from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand are currently showing a lot of interest in Switzerland. “We expect a real boom in these markets in the coming years,” said the promotion body.

Faced with the growth of other markets, is the Chinese clientele still strategic for Switzerland? The answer is clearly positive, according to tourism professionals. It must be said that Chinese tourists are the biggest spenders, just after those from the Gulf countries. These had become a godsend for many countries in the last decade before the sudden cessation of Covid-19. On average, they spend in Switzerland 380 francs per day per person, money they spend on expensive souvenirs like luxury watches. In comparison, the Germans spend only 130 francs a day. It remains to be seen whether this buying fiber will continue in the future.

Read also: In graphics: In Geneva, the luxury hotel industry closes the covid parenthesis