Content - Rebound of Japanese tourism to Switzerland

  • October 06, 2017

Rebound of Japanese tourism to Switzerland

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – The number of Japanese tourists to Switzerland has been increasing during the first half of this year. This rebound reverses an overall negative travel trend since the turn of the century. “All indicators seem to be positive,” says Fabien Clerc, Managing Director of Swiss Tourism Japan, the Japanese arm of the national tourism promotion organization of Switzerland. The SCCIJ talked to Mr. Clerc about the changing traveling patterns of Japanese tourists, the attractiveness of Switzerland as a destination for incentive travel and his innovative approaches to revive Japanese tourism to Switzerland.

Attractive Switzerland

What are the most recent trends in Japanese tourism to Switzerland?  

2017 seems to become a rebound year. The number of Japanese travelers has increased by 12.4 percent from January to May this year when compared to 2016. The rise in May was the strongest so far with a growth rate of 26.3 percent. The summer months of June, July and August are generating the main traffic from Japan. Therefore, these three months will be critical to decide about this year’s performance. All indicators seem to be positive, though.  

How much has the number of Japanese tourists in Switzerland changed over the last years?  

Actually, the number has gone down by about 63 percent between the years 2000 and 2016. In the year 2000, there were about 970,000 hotel overnight stays of Japanese tourists in Switzerland which equaled a national market share of 2.8 percent. In 2016, the number of hotel overnight stays was down to 361,000 with a market share of 1 percent.  

Are the causes of this change specific to Switzerland or are there other trends which affect Japanese tourism to Switzerland?  

In my opinion, other trends are the main cause. First of all, Japanese visits abroad have generally declined. For example, from 2012 to 2016, the number of outbound travelers went down by 7.5 percent. Second, Japanese travelers now prefer destinations in Asia such as Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Australia. At the same time, European destinations have become less popular. Also, Japanese travelers have discovered other destinations within Europe such as Czech Republic, Croatia or Slovenia.

Fabien Clerc, Managing Director of Switzerland Tourism Japan (click to enlarge)

Fabien Clerc, Managing Director of Switzerland Tourism Japan (click to enlarge)

One popular argument for the decline is that the strong franc reduced the number of Japanese tourists to Switzerland. What is your judgement?  

Well, it is rather the combination of a strong franc and a weak yen. But I do not think that this factor really decides whether the Japanese are going to Switzerland or not. More relevant are general new tourism trends. For example, there is a shift from group to individual travel which results in less overnight stays. Also, Switzerland indirectly suffers from the recent perception that Europe is not safe due to terrorism. Finally, one underestimated factor is the record inbound tourism in Japan which has made flights leaving Japan more full and expensive.  

How big is the hit for the Swiss tourism industry caused by the reduced number of tourists from Japan?  

The loss of Japanese tourists has been compensated by the growth of travelers from other markets, making Switzerland a highly popular leisure destination worldwide. Also, Switzerland is popular with so-called MICE travelers. MICE is the abbreviation for Meetings Incentives Conventions Exhibitions. Furthermore, Japanese travelers are one of the highest spenders among all source markets, which makes them a key source market for the Swiss economy.  

What is your outlook for Japanese tourism in Switzerland?

We are pursuing various options to increase traffic. For example, the senior market will grow, as the Japanese population is getting older. The elderly people are increasingly capable of booking alone and online. Secondly, we are focusing on promoting Swiss cities further in Japan, including arts, architecture and design. This brings a new image of Switzerland and therefore a fresh interest about the country. Swiss Tourism Japan also works actively to attract incentive groups to Switzerland.  

What needs to be done to innovate the classical image of Switzerland in Japan which consists of mountains, cheese and Heidi?  

Switzerland Tourism Japan is creating unseen campaigns and works with new partners with the objective to create a buzz in traditional as well as social media. Also, Switzerland is being perceived as a summer destination by Japanese. So there is a big potential to show the attractiveness of travel in Switzerland in spring, winter and fall. Each of these seasons in Switzerland highly matches the interests of Japanese travelers. Finally, we join forces with other national travel organizations from Europe in order to create a stronger impact on Europe travel in Japan.  

Can you give some examples of your innovative approaches?  

From 2015-2016, we worked under the Smart Travel in Switzerland campaign, to show that Switzerland can be visited smartly with many ways to save money, such as city cards, the Swiss Travel Pass, special offers from regional destination partners etc. This campaign had the objective to counter the main two hindrances for not traveling to Switzerland by Japanese which are money and time.  

What is your particular approach during this year?  

In 2017-2018, Switzerland Tourism Japan is focusing on a Rediscover Switzerland campaign, for which we project a new light on Switzerland. We emphasize many of the less known attractions of Switzerland, such as Swiss cities, and other less popular attractions in Japan. This campaign is more oriented towards individual travelers, knowing that more and more Japanese independent travelers would like to see something unique that doesn’t exist anywhere else.    


Text: Martin Fritz for SCCIJ; Photo (top): Switzerland Tourism/Ivo Scholz; Photo (below): Fabien Clerc

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