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Asian tourists expected to boost Swiss tourism in 2023

FILE PHOTO: Tourists walk as Lake Lucerne is seen in the background, near the peak of Mount Rigi

ZURICH (Reuters) - Asian travellers are expected to support the recovery of the Swiss tourism industry this year after American visitors pulled the sector out of its pandemic doldrums in 2022, the Swiss national tourism association said on Thursday.

The number of foreign visitors to Switzerland's mountains, lakes and cities collapsed in 2020 and 2021 as countries imposed travel restriction to curb the spread of COVID-19.

But overnight stays in Switzerland increased 29% in 2022 to just below 2019 levels as restrictions were lifted and a marketing campaign featuring Hollywood actor Anne Hathaway and tennis legend Roger Federer paid off.

American visitors more than doubled in 2022 compared with 2021, boosted by the appreciation of the dollar making Swiss destinations more affordable.

Now Swiss Tourism expects visitor numbers to Switzerland to stabilise in 2023 before rising again in 2024 and 2025.

"2023 is going to be the return of the Asian markets, Americans and Europeans have already returned in 2022," said Martin Nydegger, director of Switzerland Tourism.

"In 2023 it's going to be the battle for Asian attention. We see the rise of South East Asia, the Gulf states and we feel that the Chinese market is going to change its travel patterns," he told Reuters on the sidelines of a press event in Zurich.

Chinese tourists are looking for more nature and outdoor activities, Nydegger said, adding that they are travelling in smaller groups and more to single countries than visiting several on one trip.

Overnight stays by Chinese tourists increased markedly in 2023, according to government statistics published on Thursday, but were still only around a fifth of 2019 levels.

"Tour operators tell us demand is high," Nydegger said referring to Chinese travellers. "It's going to gradually increase."

Andreas Zuellig, president of the HotellerieSuisse, the country's hotel association, was optimistic about European and American visitors to Switzerland this year, but he was more cautious about Chinese tourists.

"Where I have doubts is the Chinese markets," he said. "I don't think it will come strongly back to the levels before the crisis because of the geopolitical tensions between Europe, NATO, the U.S. and China," he told Reuters.

(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)