Landscape: a plus for holidays in Switzerland

© Markus Bolliger

Switzerland’s tourism capital lies in its landscape. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO has quantified the value of the landscape for tourism alone at around CHF 70 billion. It is intended to give fresh impetus to the sector through new initiatives that which will benefit the economy and boost the appreciation of nature and the landscape.

Yvonne von Hunnius, 09.09.2015

Ecotourism can be described as tourism that respects the natural environment and culture of travel destinations. With ecotourism, holidaymakers can enjoy wide-ranging landscapes and find the peace and quiet they seek while contributing to regional value added and increasing their awareness of the environment. A quick glance at Switzerland reveals that the prospects for the further development of this sector are good. According to Dominik Siegrist, Director of the Institute for Landscape and Open Space at the HSR Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil, Switzerland can even be considered a pioneer in the area of ecotourism. Ecotourism products account for 20 percent of the tourism services and activities provided throughout the entire Alpine region. “At almost 30 percent, the proportion of such products on offer in Switzerland is considerably higher,” says Siegrist. The Swiss parks are working intensively in this area and other destinations are also actively involved. The Swiss youth hostels have adopted a comprehensive sustainability management programme.

Mobility – a major challenge

Katharina Conradin, President of the CIPRA, the organization for the protection and sustainable development of the Alps, describes the ideal form that ecotourism should take: “It includes arrival and departure by public transport, accommodation at a premises operated on sustainable and ecological principles, as few managed activities as possible, and catering based on regional products.” Visitors should immerse themselves in the world of their holiday destination while leaving as few traces behind as possible. Given that travel to and from the destination account for the lion’s share of the environmental impact of tourism, people who holiday in their home country take a major step towards sustainability. Does that mean that foreign travel is forbidden? Not at all, according to travel expert Christine Plüss from the Working Group on Tourism and Development (Arbeitskreis Tourismus und Entwicklung, AKTE) and travel website She explains in a separate interview how environmentally aware travel to remote regions is an option available to everyone.

© Andrea Badrutt, Chur

Nonetheless, transport is also responsible for 75 percent of the emissions generated by tourism in Switzerland. Although half of all holidaymakers come from Switzerland itself and the country’s public transport system is considered exemplary, the dilemma is clearly demonstrated by the current Switzerland Tourism campaign “Grand Tour of Switzerland”. This discovery tour of the country, which has proved a hit with tourists, is also strongly tailored to car journeys. Understandably, according to the critics, 70 percent of tourists travel around Switzerland by car and with little awareness of the environment.

Breaking away from the pack

It is planned to lend impetus to sustainable, low-impact tourism from 2017with the “Schweiz pur” ecotourism campaign. The first nature and culture experiences are being put together by experts on the basis of a catalogue of criteria. Priority is explicitly given to public transport. A selection of accommodation options is also being prepared. Switzerland Tourism’s marketing director Nicole Diermeier explains: “We also want to create greater incentives for making tourism services sustainable.” The visitor should always experience something unique. The term “sustainability” is used sparingly by the campaign, however, as the aim is to reach travellers who do not define themselves as “green tourists” but are nevertheless interested in nature and culture.

© Andrea Badrutt, Chur

These target groups are particularly promising because they are relatively unconcerned about the strength of the Swiss franc. According to market surveys, they are not very cost conscious, have a higher level of education, and visit Switzerland and other European states frequently. Switzerland Tourism is generally aiming to break away from the pack and move towards multi-niche marketing. This involves a paradigm change according to Diermeier.

Everyday business concerns override resource-conserving intentions

The approach is also a product of the realisation that clever tricks are needed when it comes to promoting ecotourism. The managers of the tourism associations, all of the tourism regions and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) professed their commitment to sustainability in 2009 with Switzerland Tourism’s “Charter for Sustainability”. The intention behind the Charter: “Switzerland continues to establish itself as one of the world’s most sustainable holiday destinations.” However, the process was by no means automatic. An evaluation of the progress made by Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU) in 2014 revealed that the Charter’s impacts on the sector have been minimal. Fabian Weber, a HSLU project leader says: “Too few tourism actors were sufficiently convinced to address the topic of ecotourism in their everyday business activities.” Their priority was dealing with the difficult economic situation and sustainable tourism services do not appear to offer a solution to this problem at an initial glance. According to Weber, tourists value sustainability but they are not prepared to pay more for it.

© Emanuel Ammon

Pragmatic solutions from Graubünden

Progress has been made, however, in areas in which sustainability is quantifiable or can be developed as a useful complement to the services already on offer. An example of this is the Projekt Leuchtturm (“lighthouse project”) in the canton of Graubünden, through which around 100 hotels are saving on CO2 emissions and costs with the help of better energy management. The Graubünden destinations Engadin Scuol and Engadin Val Müstair have developed into a pioneering region. Their director of tourism Urs Wohler is a driving force behind this development. Initiatives like the transportation of luggage to holiday accommodation have contributed to enabling 23 percent of visitors to use public transport. Wohler is a pragmatist who describes exclusively green tourism as a pipe dream. However: “Ecotourism can complement winter tourism or boost it,” he explains.

© Andrea Badrutt, Chur

Responses to structural change

Structural change in tourism is in full swing. According to tourism expert Dominik Siegrist, despite the stagnation in the skiing market, large skiing centres are growing at the cost of the smaller ones and day tourism destinations are booming. This development is boosted by the strength of the Swiss franc alone, which will probably lead to a decline of up to seven percent in overnight stays in the mountain tourism sector by the end of the year. Siegrist says: “Ecotourism alone cannot solve these structural problems. But it can make a significant contribution.” What he is also referring to here is sustainable development in rural areas, not least, with a view to generating regional value added. If it were up to him, the millions in federal and cantonal funding targeted at the skiing regions of Andermatt and Sedrun would have been distributed among several small regional projects. The traditionally maintained cultural landscape and attractive villages are, after all, Switzerland’s greatest source of tourism capital. The will to implement innovative ideas is still lacking. Siegrist already has a very clear image of the stressed banker who, rather than charging from side to side down ski pistes, can forget the everyday pressures of his life while milking a cow on a farm.

Berner Mittelland
© Markus Bolliger

Quality the top priority

The principle that applies to other Swiss-made products also applies to the services provided under the heading of Swiss ecotourism: the customer must be able to rely on the quality. An international expert group led by Dominik Siegrist from the HSR Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil has developed ten quality standards for ecotourism. They were tested in case studies and the results were published in 2015 in a book entitled Naturnaher Tourismus (in German) and in the form of a comprehensive checklist. The ten standards with their qualitative and quantitative indicators are intended to provide a working tool for those responsible for tourism destinations and regions.

WWF holiday ideas and Swiss ecotourism experiences

“Many people have visited North America and Africa but have never been in Glarnerland,” says Corina Gyssler from WWF Schweiz. The environmental organisation singled out ten sustainable holiday ideas developed by Switzerland Tourism, which are presented on Switzerland Tourism’s Ecotourism web page: “Our holiday habits have a strong impact on greenhouse gas emissions. We want to show that more people are discovering the huge range of sustainable holiday ideas available within easy reach in Switzerland. Every region, without exception, has exciting destinations.” The information provided on the web page includes tips about the Alpine culture in the Bernese Oberland and about nature and history on the shores of Lake Constance in east Switzerland. Switzerland Tourism has now collected over 200 experiences based on its catalogue of criteria and provides access to them online. The official launch of the two-year campaign is in 2017.

Impressive capital value of the landscape

The capitalised value of the landscape as a place of business for tourism can be estimated through detailed examination. A study (in German) commissioned by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO in 2002 calculated the annual willingness to pay of people who travel in the landscape. The researchers ultimately estimated the capitalised value of the Swiss landscape for tourism at between CHF 68 and 79 billion. Furthermore, they stress that this is a minimum.


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Last modification 15.09.2015

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