Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Thu June 18 2015

Swiss See Winter Growth from the US

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | June 18, 2015

Swiss See Winter Growth from the US

PHOTO: Long the domain of European skiers, Americans are discovering the beauty of the Swiss Alps in winter. (Courtesy of Swiss Tourism)

Everyone expected 2015 to be strong year for European travel. An MMGY Global survey found that U.S. adults planning getaways had reached its highest point since 2007, with 60 percent of travelers planning to take a vacation in the following six months. The survey found that travelers felt better about their finances. A recent survey by TCI Research indicated surging potential from several long-haul markets including the U.S., with Europe at the top of the wish list. Switzerland reported an unusually strong winter season out of the U.S., a destination that most Americans prefer in summer.

American room nights in Swiss hotels from November through April showed a growth of 6 percent compared to the same period in 2013/2014. Swiss tourism officials have long emphasized the Alpine summer in the U.S. and focused on the short-haul European ski market for the Alpine winter. Taken in context, the numbers for the past winter support a positive year-round trend that has been developing over the past five years. Since 2010, Switzerland has been able to report an increase in hotel overnights from the U.S. every year, from roughly 1,400,000 to almost 1,650,000. Thus, the boost in American winter numbers is probably more a case of a surge in American visitation throughout the year.

If the Alpine winter continues growing for Switzerland, it will be something of a culmination of a very long gestation, 150 years long. “We are pleased to see that American travelers chose Switzerland as their winter destination, this year even more, since we were celebrating a major anniversary in winter tourism, which started in St. Moritz in the Engadin valley 150 years ago,” said Alex Herrmann, director Americas of Switzerland Tourism.

Last year, Switzerland basically celebrated what amounts to their invention: mountain winter tourism. The story goes that it began at the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz. Built in 1856, it was the first St. Moritz hotel. Originally popular with British travelers as a summer spa destination, the hotel’s owner, Johannes Badrutt, initiated winter holidays to St. Moritz from 1864 and, as a result, the hotel, resort and Switzerland itself celebrated 150 years of winter tourism in the 2014/15 season.

The Kulm Hotel continues to evolve the winter product. It recently paired up with First Luggage to make light work of getting snow sports equipment to its home in the Engadin. The First Luggage people pick up ski equipment from the skiers’ homes prior to departure and deliver it direct to the Kulm and then deliver it home again at the end of the holiday.

Another classic Swiss hotel, Zurich’s Baur au Lac, now about 170 years old, just completed a full renovation of its lobby lounge. Not just any lobby, since the Baur au Lac opened in 1844, "Le Hall," as it is known, has been an important meeting place. It was in "Le Hall" that Bertha von Suttner convinced industrial magnate Alfred Nobel of the need for a world peace prize. Thomas Mann wrote here. Marc Chagall sketched here. Empress Sissi sipped afternoon tea here. And it was here that Franz Liszt accompanied his son-in-law, Richard Wagner, on the piano for the world premiere of "Die Walküre."

Filmmaker Warren Miller recently released his cinematic celebration of the evolution of winter Alpine tourism activities. The film, entitled No Turning Back, pays homage to 65 years of mountain culture and adventure filmmaking with spectacular ski action shots in Switzerland, the U.S., France, Greece and Japan with world-class skiers and snowboarders.

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