Switzerland’s Hotel Industry Continues to Innovate

The entire town of Cape May, one of the oldest seaside resort towns in the U.S., is a National Historic Landmark—and appropriately so. At the southernmost tip of New Jersey, it's got old-fashioned Victorians and a lighthouse built in 1859, as well as pristine beaches, surf and fine dining.

Switzerland’s hotel scene is often taken for granted—a basic requirement to attract global power moguls to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum, to keep the slopes of the Swiss Alps full of well-heeled skiers in winter and to facilitate the business travelers that help fuel the country’s banking and finance economies.

Burgenstock Resort in Switzerland: PHOTO: Burgenstock Resort in Switzerland. (Photo via Switzerland Tourism)

But Switzerland’s hotel industry has been evolving as visitor numbers keep growing. According to Switzerland’s Federal Office of Statistics, the Swiss hotel industry recorded 18.4 million overnight stays in Switzerland in the first half of 2018, an increase of 670,000 over the same period in 2017, with over 10 million of those rooms booked by foreign visitors.

“In the last 15 to 20 years, billions have been invested in Switzerland’s hotel industry, and that’s partly independent properties that have renovated and also international chains that have discovered Switzerland,” said Alex Herrmann, director of the Americas at Switzerland Tourism.

He cites as examples the InterContinental Davos, which opened in 2014, and the W Vervier, which opened in 2013. More recently, the country welcomed the new Radisson Blu Hotel & Gotthard Residences in Andermatt in 2018 and, later this year, openings are planned for the Swiss group Movenpick Hotels & Resorts new flagship property, located in Basel, and the debut of Marriott’s Moxy brand in Lausanne.

These global hotel brands are establishing a Swiss presence that is in lockstep with the country’s own economic growth. Herrmann called the banking and investment sector important, but also noted that the country’s tech sector has also expanded. Google’s third largest office—in the world—is in Switzerland and IBM has part of their European headquarters and a research center in Switzerland where Microsoft and Disney, too, have a presence.

“The business sector has played a crucial role in hotel development and this has helped drive investment in Swiss cities,” Herrmann added.

An influx of international investment has helped fuel the country’s expanding hotel segment. Burgenstock Resort, where Audrey Hepburn wed Mel Ferrer, was acquired by the Qatari state fund in 2007 and after completing a major redesign that closed the property for nine years, the resort reopened in 2017 with four hotels, 12 restaurants, a spa and golf course, among other facilities.

But Herrmann also credited Swiss investors with playing a part as well. “They may not invest in a hotel for business reasons, but because they are looking to showcase their art collection, use it as a meeting place for business or charitable endeavors or they simply want to keep a property as part of their investment portfolio,” he explained. These luxury hotels include the Dolder Grand Zurich and the Park Hotel Vitznau on Lake Lucerne.

Switzerland’s architectural traditions have also inspired new hotels like The Chedi Andermatt and The Alpina Gstaad. Herrmann described the innovative design of these hotels as a marriage of old and new. “A lot of newer hotel projects in Switzerland try to bring Alpine chic and Swiss heritage into the future,” he said.

The Chedi was built by local craftsmen using local wood, but still with Asian influences while The Alpina was constructed from wood salvaged from old stables and farms throughout the region for a traditional spin on modern luxury.

Pop-up hotels even had their moment in the spotlight last year when Switzerland Tourism launched a campaign encouraging existing Swiss hotels to open these temporary accommodations in unusual spaces where guests couldn’t typically spend a night, such as inside a historic clock tower. “Everything was fully booked and they added a lot to the rich tapestry of tourism in Switzerland,” said Herrmann. “But I don’t know how long the pop-up trend will go on for.”

More information on the country’s range of lodging options is available through the travel agent education program The Switzerland Academy as well as the annual sales manual that Switzerland Tourism produces for agents. The accommodations section of myswitzerland.com is easily searchable by lodging types, including “attended huts” and “overnights in monasteries.”

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