In 2020, the Swiss hotel sector registered 23.7 million overnight stays. This represents a fall of 40.0% (-15.8 million overnight stays) compared with 2019. The exceptional context of COVID–19 explains this unprecedented fall at a level not seen since the end of the 1950s. Foreign demand registered 7.3 million overnight stays, i.e. a decline of 66.1% (–14.3 million). Swiss demand fell less drastically (–8.6%/–1.5 million) to 16.4 million overnight stays. These are the final results from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).
While for the first two months of the year increases were observed (January: +7.1% and February: +7.0%) compared with the same period of the previous year, from March to December demand fell sharply. Decreases ranged from –91.8% (April) to –24.9% (July).
Drastic fall in foreign demand
In January, overnight stays for both foreign and domestic visitors increased (+5.7% and +8.5% respectively). In February, this situation continued (+5.4%/+8.6%) but the first effects due to COVID-19 are perceptible. Asian customers were down sharply (–29.0%), particularly guests from China (–69.9%).
In March, the extraordinary situation due to COVID–19 led the Federal Council to put in place restrictive measures like other countries. Foreign demand fell by 68.2% and it did not recover throughout the year 2020. Decreases ranged from –96.2% (April) to –60.9% (August).
Overnight stays by Swiss guests also fell drastically in March (–55.4%), April (–86.2%) and May (–54.6%). In June, in the context of a relaxation of the measures linked to the COVID–19, domestic demand remained strongly negative (–23.1%) but nonetheless showed a slight improvement compared with the three previous months.
Record number of overnight stays for domestic visitors over the summer
From July to October, a strong reversal of this trend was observed for this clientele. Unprecedented levels of Swiss demand were recorded every month during this period. The symbolic level of 2.0 million overnight stays was even exceeded in July, August and September, with a peak in July (2.6 million overnight stays). Monthly increases during this period ranged from +35.0% (July) to +16.4% (October).
At the end of this period, an increase of 1.7 million overnight stays (+23.6%) was observed compared with 2019. However, from November onwards (–29.1%) and then in December (–17.2%) with the arrival of the second wave of COVID–19 and the reintroduction of cantonal and federal sanitary measures, domestic demand fell once again sharply though it did not reach the negative level seen between March and May.
Drastic drop in overnight stays in city regions
In 2020, Switzerland’s thirteen tourist regions observed declines in overnight stays compared with 2019. The largest declines were observed in city regions. Geneva (– 67.5%), the Zurich Region (–65.4%) and the Basel Region (–58.8%) posted the largest contractions in demand among all regions. The least marked declines were seen in Graubünden (–9.2%) and Ticino (–16.3%). All tourist regions observed extremely marked drops in foreign demand, ranging from –74.9% (Lucerne/Lake Lucerne region) to –42.8% (Graubünden).
In terms of Swiss demand, however, four regions saw an increase in overnight stays. These were Graubünden (+12.2%), Ticino (+9.7%), Bern Region (+6.4%) and Valais (+3.5%). The other nine tourist regions saw a decline in domestic demand, but less markedly than for foreign clientele. The declines ranged from –49.6% (Zurich Region) to –2.3% (Lucerne/Lake Lucerne region).
Regression in room occupancy rates
During 2020, the net room occupancy rate fell to 36.1% with a 19.1 point decline on 2019. It is the lowest rate recorded since the start of observation of this variable (2005). This rate declined in all tourist regions, but it was in the city regions where the largest declines and the lowest rates were observed.
Geneva observed a rate of 26.6% i.e. the lowest rate for all tourist regions (in 2019, Geneva registered in contrast the highest rate of 66.5%). This was followed by Zurich Region with a rate of 27.2% (65.0% in 2019). For their part, the mountain tourist regions posted slightly lower rates compared with the previous year. Valais reached a rate of 48.1% (53.9% in 2019) i.e. the highest of all the tourist regions, followed by Graubünden with 47.2% (50.2% in 2019).
Our take at CPP-LUXURY.COM
Switzerland lags behind most E.U. countries in the vaccination rate of its population – stocks are minimal and there have been no formal requests by Swiss pharmaceutical companies to license the production of already approved vaccines such as Pfizer, Moderna or Astra Zeneca.
Unlike for other countries which are major tourism destination, the Federal Government is not even considering vaccination in a priority stage those who work in the hospitality sector to convey a message of overall safety as a destination, especially considering the major scandal of positive Covid-19 cases found among staff and guests in January at two luxury hotels in the prestigious mountain resort of St Moritz.
Hotels of all categories are behind in implementing Covid-19 safety and hygiene measures, regulations being left to the decision of each administrative canton. Nowadays, chaos in implementing rules are wide-spread. Spas and indoor pools (including heated) as well as thermal baths are still open and the month 0f February is most likely to produce a major spike in Covid-19 cases because of the very high occupancy in the ski resorts, traditionally a month of holidays for children.
From Zurich to Geneva, people may find hotels open but only serving in-room dining or hotels with partial restaurant operations only serving hotels guests – who may be local if they pay for accommodation.
There are no federal measures put in place for the disinfection of public transport (especially disinfection of frequently used metal surfaces often used disinfection) – no ventilation on many trains and staff not urging travellers to open windows; no penalties for not wearing a protective mask and overcrowding – not to mention the lack of any distancing. Staff on trains do not wear protective gloves and are still checking paper based / printed tickets. The same is the situation at the major international airports such as Geneva and Basel.
Despite issuing apparent stricter rules this year on international arrivals, customs and police border is still not trained to check validity of Covid-19 test, the European Commission (High Commissioner for Transport) admitting in a statement that ‘producing fake negative Covid-19 tests is spreading and there is no centralised control of certificated / approved labs. There is a lack of any information or briefing of border police on international arrivals with vaccination certificates even those arriving from an EU country with a Pfizer BioNTec test.
Under all these conditions, not to mention the lack of any punitive measures even for the hospitality / tourism sector, relaxing measures from March 1st seems to be very unlikely to happen despite pressure from major economic players.
CPP-LUXURY.COM will be releasing a comprehensive study on February 26th
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