Swiss Tourism: Spectacular Mountains Popularised by the Brits

Tourism in Switzerland did not really exist until the 19th century. That’s when the British craze for travelling and exploring tourist destinations started.  At the same time, it was fuelled by the expansion of the railway and the Romanticism, which propelled interest of both common people and nobility to visit destinations abroad. Today, Swiss tourism is a gigantic industry with Switzerland being one of the most popular destinations.

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We may say that Byron propelled the interest in Italy and Greece when he and his friends started writing poems about the Classical Mediterranean. But it is also true that Byron, Persey and Mary Shelley had a lot to do with the development of Swiss tourism. As they sat in their Swiss chalet, Mary invented the story of Frenkenstein, which helped create interest in Switzerland. Later, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a story in which he killed his much beloved and hated Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Waterfalls. Under pressure, Holmes miraculously resurrected, but the legend was still born – hundreds of Brits wanted to see Reichenbach Waterfalls. After this, the tourists started coming in great numbers. Sporty Britons were keen to imitate swish Swiss skiers and, all of a sudden, Switzerland was packed with skiers from all over the world in winter and picnickers in summer. The rest is history: Switzerland became the world’s leading ski destination, and summers remained equally popular with tourists flocking to the green slopes of the Alps, enjoying cheese, beer and Alphorns, of course.

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Some other, perhaps more accurate facts state that tourism began with British mountaineers climbing the peaks of the Bernese Alps in the early 19th century (Jungfrau 1811, Finsteraarhorn 1812). The Alpine Club in London was founded in 1857. In the 19th and 20th centuries, due to its climate, the Alps were a popular rehabilitation centre, especially from tuberculosis. One of the examples is Davos, Graubünden. Because of the prominence of the Bernese Alps in British mountaineering, the Bernese Oberland became established as a popular tourist destination. Meiringen’s Reichenbach Falls achieved literary fame as the site of the fictional death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (1893). The first package holidays to Switzerland were organised in the 19th century by Thomas Cook and Lunn Travel.


Tourists are drawn to Switzerland’s Alpine climate and landscapes, in particular for skiing and mountaineering. As of 2011, tourism accounted for an estimated 2.9% of Switzerland’s gross domestic product. Official tourist statistics had been hoped for since 1852, but were only achieved in 1934, and continued until 2003. Since 2004, the Federal Statistical Office had discontinued its own calculation, but collaborates with Switzerland Tourism in the publication of yearly “Swiss Tourism Figures”. In the year 2011, there was s a total number of 4,967 registered hotels and hostels, offering a total of 240,000 beds in 128,000 rooms. This capacity was saturated to 41.7% (compared to 39.7% in 2005), amounting to a total of 38.8 million lodging nights. 14% of hotels were in Grisons, 12% each in the Valais and Eastern Switzerland, 11% in Central Switzerland and 9% in the Bernese Oberland. The ratio of lodging nights in relation to resident population (“tourism intensity”, a measure for the relative importance of tourism to local economy) was largest in Grisons (8.3) and Bernese Oberland (5.3), compared to a Swiss average of 1.3. 56.4% of lodging nights were by visitors from abroad (broken down by nationality: 16.5% Germany, 6.3% UK, 4.8% USA, 3.6% France, 3.0% Italy).

The total financial income from tourist industry, including transportation, is estimated to CHF 35.5 billion (as of 2010) although some of this comes from fuel tax and sales of motorway vignettes. The total value of solely tourism is 14.9 billion. Tourism provides a total of 144,838 full time jobs in the entire country. The total financial income of tourist lodging is 5.19 billion CHF and eating at the lodging provides an additional 5.19 billion. The total gross value of 14.9 billion is about 2.9% of Switzerland’s 2010 nominal GDP of 550.57 billion CHF.

The main airport in Switzerland is in Zurich, and the main railway line connects Geneva, Zurich and Basel. The main route across the Alps is via the Gotthard Road Tunnel and the Gotthard Rail Tunnel. The new Gotthard Base Tunnel, opening in 2016, will improve the railway services. The most visited Swiss tourist attractions the Rhine Falls, followed by the Berne Bear exhibit (both for free), and also Zoo Basel, with over 1.8 million paid entries.

Most overnight stays in 2014 in Switzerland were made by tourists from the following countries of residence: Germany over 4 million, surpassing tourists from the UK. The British are the second with some 1.66 million overnight stays. The USA, China, Italy and France have over million overnight stays each, and the rest are the Gulf states, and tourists from the Netherlands, Russia and the Nordic countries are increaasing in numbers rapidly.

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If you are planning on travelling around Switzerland, it’s not hard to visit many of Switzerland’s top sites during your stay. Since Switzerland is a small country, its attractions are close to each other and can be reached quite easily. The Swiss transport system is extremely efficient –  trains, ferries and cable cars easily take you to the top sites in Switzerland. Mountain resorts, lakes, forests, castles, museums, and ancient and modern architecture make this federal Swiss republic an excellent tourist destination. With its low crime rate, Switzerland is also very safe for tourists.

There would be no Switzerland without the Alps, partly because the remote mountain position prevented the enemies from advancing easily, partly because… well, the Alps have it all –  from skiing and climbing to picnic sites and hilly ancient little towns. And the most famous peak in the Alps, the Matterhorn in Zermatt, stands 4,478 meters high. Mountaineers flock to this town to conquer this technically difficult peak, and Zermatt also offers skiing and beautiful views. There are also other activities that do not involve skiing, such as good restaurants and lots of energetic nightlife for visitors to enjoy. Don’t forget the most exclusive St Moritz, and the perfectly orderly cities of Zurich, Bern or Geneva, many of them cradles of the Swiss branch of Protestantism which shaped much of this country, but of course, not all of it. Switzerland is a place to visit. And relax!

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