Felicity Long
Felicity Long

With record tourism growth in Switzerland -- 2018 saw a whopping 10% boost in arrivals from the U.S. over the previous year -- I'll bet you think this is another article about overtourism.

Actually, it's not, for while tourism to the destination is robust, it's completely manageable, according to Urs Eberhard, head of markets for Switzerland Tourism, who credits a number of factors for the more serene nature of the visitor experience than you might get, say, waiting in line to see Michelangelo's "David" in Florence.

One reason is that Switzerland is -- to put it bluntly -- expensive. 

"As a premium destination, the 'currency firewall' plays an important role," Eberhard said. "We've seen that during the period when the euro got significantly weaker [against the Swiss Franc in 2009]."

As a result, the mountain regions suffered some dramatic decreases in European visitors, and tourism numbers in Alpine and rural regions are still dramatically lower than they were in 2008, he said.

Of course, he's not saying the country is unaffordable, and there are plenty of budget-friendly accommodation options, but in general, the tourism experience skews toward luxury, which works to keep the crowds at bay.

Another key factor is that the destination is landlocked.

"As we are not accessible to large cruise ships, we don't have any destination receiving thousands of visitors at once," he said. 

"There is a very strong and popular river cruise market on the Rhine River starting and ending in Basel, but the numbers are relatively small, and Switzerland profits especially from guests traveling before or after the cruise throughout the country for [several] days and not just visiting one spot for a couple of hours."

Also key in keeping the destination from being overrun with tourists is simply that Switzerland is more than just one thing. Unlike many European destinations, which have one must-see capital city, Switzerland, with its four languages and varied topography, offers a diverse range of attractions scattered around the country.

In addition to the urban charms of such key cities as Lausanne, Lucerne, Zurich and Bern, for example, visitors often frequent the Jungfrau, the Titlis, Interlaken and the Matterhorn.

They can also avoid hot spots altogether by taking the Grand Tour of Switzerland, a road trip through the Alps that includes some little-visited towns and villages.

Eberhard also pointed out that even some of the well-known attractions are located far apart from each other, which "automatically eliminates people who just want to come, take a picture and leave."

Speaking of getting from one place to another, you can't overstate the importance of the country's highly efficient rail system.

"The fact that the public transportation system allows you to reach every corner of the country at least every hour ... (most main lines run every 15 or 30 minutes) allows our visitors to spread out and to discover much more," he said.

He also pointed out that Swiss trains travel through some of the country's most scenic areas -- in some cases through landscape you couldn't access any other way -- which means that the rides are not just transfers but rather excursions in themselves.

Switzerland has four distinct seasons, which draw a mix of international visitors with different interests and needs who travel during different months.

There is a strong domestic market -- nearly half of the tourists you'll mingle with are Swiss -- with another 20% coming from such long-haul markets as the U.S. and Asia and roughly 35% from Europe.

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