Switzerland, top tourist destination for wealthy Muslims

Switzerland has managed to become the European tourist paradise of the Arabs of the Gulf. The fact is that you can do financial business at the same time.

Photo: Eberhard Grossgasteiger

Rich Muslims, like rich people all over the world, like to enjoy themselves. In addition, as many of them come from desert countries, they love the mountains, the greenery and the snow of Switzerland. According to the Swiss Tourist Organisation (Schweiz Tourismus), this type of tourist has grown by 160% since 2007. Nearly one million tourists come each year, with an upward trend. To reach this type of customers luxury hotels have fully adapted to their special needs asking for a service in Arabic or Persian, as well as halal food. According to the “Global Muslim Travel Index” published by Crescent Rating and Mastercard, Switzerland is already in the 11th rank of Muslim favourite destinations. In number 1 is Singapore, Germany is in eighth position and Spain comes after the Swiss republic.

Asian destinations stand out among the most popular, while the US is not even in the Top 20.

A rich Muslim loves to spend

Most visitors come from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. They like the Swiss cleanliness and order, but also the business that can be developed in the Alpine republic, still with more discretion than in its environment. According to Moroccan sources, some take advantage of their passage through the country to deposit money in a private bank in Zurich or Basel. In the case of the Arabs of the Gulf the interest in Switzerland is not only tourist, especially Qatar which, according to the Swiss “Handelszeitung”, has invested in recent years billions of euros in hotels, businesses and banks in Switzerland. For the tourist industry they are worth gold, because they spend much more than others of their category.

A rich Arab leaves an average of 420 Swiss francs a day in clothes, food and other things, while for example an American “only” reaches 380. The German is the cheapest, according to a report in the Swiss newspaper “SonntagsZeitung”: they spend “only” about 130 Swiss francs a day. In addition, Arabs like to come in large groups. They like to find open-minded people in Switzerland, although at heart the Swiss is very conservative and Catholic.

Photo: Katsiaryna Endruszkiewic

A whole business has been created around the “halal” client.

But this attraction of the Swiss republic for Arabs and Persians remains curious, considering the fact that there is a very open debate in Switzerland against the burka, which is forbidden to wear in the regions of Tessin and St. Gallen. There was also a popular initiative to prevent the burka throughout the country. In the end, the executive body, the “Bundesrat”, has confined itself to saying that in its country it is not desirable to wear a burka, but that it should not be banned. Minarets are also not allowed in the country. But Swiss hotels only see their business and, in order to avoid conflicts and not appear clumsy, some teach their employees how to treat Muslim customers correctly, with the emphasis on the right greeting. In this way, staff learn that Muslim women should not be looked into their eyes for a long time and that they do not like physical contact.

In addition, pro-Arab hotels should also have separate spa areas for men and women, which is already more complicated. The region of Bern and especially Interlaken have become numerous and it is profitable for them to adapt to Muslim tastes. According to the Federal Statistical Office, more than 82,000 Muslim visitors came to the region in 2011, according to the Federal Statistical Office, representing an increase of more than 300%.

People like the blonde tourist guide Julie Paterson, who has lived in Egypt for some time, have already made their place in this world. She has launched a website that informs Arabs about the region: www.interlakenforarabs.com and helps Arabs make their travel plans in the country as documented also in her Instagram. They are flattered by the fact that there is even a Halal Barbecue Cruise on the Brienzersee lake. Visitors, who in many cases come from countries where there are no rivers or water, but a lot of heat, are impressed by the nature of this part of Switzerland.

In Geneva there is everything: also a lot of money and business.

Geneva, where there are many international organizations and great implantation of the financial world, has made a niche in this tourist world adapting very well to the Arabs with personnel from these countries in their hotels and with special menus in restaurants.

According to Lucie Gerber, spokesperson for Geneva’s “Genf Tourismus”, the city is already the favorite destination for Arabs with 250,000 nights a year: “We are on the rise”. This is also clearly linked to the fact that many of the Arab banks are in this city. Ten years ago, it was estimated in the Geneva daily newspaper (Genfer Tageszeitung) that 200,000 million euros were spent on this city.

Although money calls money, not everything works like a Swiss watch for Arabs when they are on holiday in Switzerland. What bothers the rich Arabs, for example, is that on Sundays in many Swiss cities they cannot go shopping as in their own countries, where they sometimes work until midnight and there are many night bazaars. In Switzerland, however, shops normally close at 7 or 8 pm, and on Sundays they are closed.

But even this is already changing, at least in Zürich, where many shopping centres have recently been open until 15 hours a day, from 7 am to 10 pm.

Author: Stefanie Claudia Müller dirigentesdigital.com