Check-in: Swiss hotels respond to the pandemic

The pandemic of the past two years is changing attitudes towards travel and has forced the tourism industry to adapt. Andreas Züllig, President of the Swiss hotel association HotellerieSuisse, explains how hotels are defying the crisis.

This content was published on October 22, 2021 – 10:00

“How did the Swiss handle this? A German TV reporter asked me in February of this year. This was in reference to the fact that Swiss ski resorts remained open.

In November of last year, there was an uproar in our neighboring countries who had decided to put massive restrictions on winter tourism, if not to shut down altogether.

Andreas Züllig

Andreas Züllig has been president of the Swiss hotel association HotellerieSuisse since 2015. He is the owner and manager of the Hotel Schweizerhof in the mountain resort of Lenzerheide.

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Political leaders from Germany, Italy, France and Austria have gathered to warn of a new coronavirus hotspot in Europe. Our government has been under intense pressure. But he held on – fortunately for the important winter tourism industry in Switzerland.

The confidence placed in the safety concepts put in place for Swiss cable cars and ski lifts, hotels and restaurants has borne fruit. In the middle of the winter season, the foreign media suddenly became interested in the “Swiss model”. How to protect people but also the economy, and therefore jobs and businesses?

I think the Swiss have a strong sense of personal responsibility. During this extraordinary crisis, it helped them to follow a pragmatic – that is to say “Swiss” – path. For this confidence, we must thank the authorities.

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But the extraordinary challenges of the past year and a half have also served as a wake-up call and development in various areas: more cooperation, networking and pooling of resources and know-how to prepare for the challenges. future. Overnight, key issues such as digitization and sustainability became even more important. The need to act was accepted, in politics, in the hotel association, and in individual companies.

Overnight, we had to learn how to communicate with Teams, Skype, and other tools. Even though digitization has been part of the hospitality industry for quite some time, huge changes have happened quickly. Customer data had to be collected and many things that had been postponed suddenly had to be dealt with immediately.

In our own hotel, the pandemic – and all its attendant security concepts and regulations – has allowed us, since the spring, to organize our reception on an (almost) paperless basis.

The consequences of the pandemic will also occupy the tourism industry in the future. Digitization will help us deliver tailor-made packages. The offers will become more integrated: from arrival at the airport, to the hotel room, to discovering the surroundings. A digital concierge will enrich the customer experience and help them discover new things.

Sustainability is not just a popular buzzword; it is also the basis of any successful business. In the future, no business will be successful without operating in a sustainable manner, with careful management of resources and a commitment to well-trained and motivated staff, as well as the financial basis to protect the future of the business and the jobs at. long term.

Sustainability in tourism

The United Nations World Tourism Organization has defined six lines of action to guide the revival of responsible tourism, focusing on public health, social inclusion, biodiversity, climate, a circular economy and governance and finance.

The Swiss tourism industry followed suit earlier this year with its “Swisstainable” campaign, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The campaign rewards players in the sector who commit to the “Swisstainable” program, as well as by encouraging holidaymakers to “travel more consciously”, by immersing themselves in the local culture, for example by consuming regional products, and by staying longer.

The tourism industry has moved away from targeting short-stay groups that in the past spent a lot of money in a day or two, but benefited little from it. The Suisse Mobilité application and website offer interactive maps with hiking and cycling trails, and in winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing routes, listing accommodation and public transport. It is designed to encourage visitors not only to extend their visits, but also to think outside the box.

The Swiss Federal Railways have set 2030 as the date by which they will become climate neutral thanks in large part to the energy supply of their own hydropower plants. The railways say renewable energy already accounts for 100% of the electricity required for its buildings and infrastructure, and 90% to operate its rolling stock. The Rhaetian Railway trains, which serve south-eastern Switzerland, including the Davos and St Moritz mountain stations, have been running exclusively on electricity from hydropower plants since 2013.

The country has a network of 19 parks which represent more than an eighth of Swiss territory. The objective of the “Swiss Parks” network is to preserve natural resources and to support the sustainable development and culture of towns and villages within the boundaries of the park. The Swiss National Park, in the south-eastern corner of the country, is the only strictly protected wilderness area in Switzerland.

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This is precisely why it is important to approach this issue with even more energy. As early as 2015, HotellerieSuisse adopted a new strategy and placed innovation and sustainability at the center of the accommodation sector. A working group under the aegis of the Swiss Tourism Federation is currently working on the creation of a new sustainable development strategy for the entire Swiss tourism sector and on the definition of measures to implement it.

Travel is definitely going to change in the future. Digitization will mean less business trips to cities. As already mentioned, interactions and meetings will be less likely to take place in person in the future, and more likely to take place virtually. From an environmental standpoint, this development is certainly welcome. For tourism and airlines, however, this means a massive reduction in income, and there will be a corresponding reduction in excess capacity. Some airlines have already decided to stop operating their long-haul planes once the pandemic is over.

But how is tourism developing because of these – now almost two – years of crisis? It must be said that some changes would have taken place anyway. Demographic changes, digitization and greater awareness of climate change had become apparent even before the onset of the crisis.

Some of these developments will intensify and accelerate. In the future, safety and health will become key factors when it comes to travel. Travelers will place more importance on nutrition, exercise, sleep and relaxation. Slowing down will become a unique selling point in tourism.

Travelers will not take a quick trip to a place to show people back home a photo of where they have been; Rather, the focus will be on the experience of the place – greater awareness of the culture and the location. Employees are becoming more and more important. A survey by the Fraunhofer Institute showed that 80% of guests consider it very important for a hotel to have a respectful relationship with its staff.

Almost 70% of customers appreciate eco-friendly behavior, and over 40% are also willing to pay more for it. Thus, the tourism of the future is clearly in the direction of quality rather than quantity. It will no longer be necessary to take five city breaks per year. The future lies in more conscious and sustainable travel. The key criteria here are the cultural offer, the culinary selection available, including local and seasonal produce, the careful use of resources, as well as a motivated and well-trained staff.

Switzerland fulfills all the conditions to meet, if not exceed, the requirements of its current and future guests.

I am convinced that Switzerland will continue to keep pace and remain competitive in the face of its international competition, whether in the city or in the mountains.

Tourism has always known how to emerge stronger from periods of crisis. Pioneers in tourism, we have proven this for over 150 years.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SWI swissinfo.ch.

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