Skift Take

Russia's largest outbound travel market prior to the sanctions was Ukraine, which is too busy dealing with a Russian-sponsored war to bother much with declining tourism numbers.

For Russians, Switzerland may have lost its appeal.

Visitors from Russia have declined every month since May and fell 13 percent in September, statistics office data published today in Neuchatel show.

Russians, which ranked tenth among foreign visitors last year, are choosing not to travel after the annexation of Crimea and support for the eastern Ukraine rebellion led the European Union to impose a raft of sanctions.

It’s “strongly due to the Ukraine-Russia crisis, which seems to be having an impact on the travel habits or Russian guests in Switzerland,” Alain Suter, a spokesman for the Swiss tourism board, said by phone.

EU sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans on Russian politicians, military officers and businesspeople. Moscow responded in August with a ban on food imports, and across the country, roadway billboards urged vacationers to head for the newly added territory.

Because of the crisis, the ruble has dropped more 19 percent against the Swiss franc this year, pushing up the cost of an Alpine vacation. Against the euro, the ruble is down nearly 17 percent since January and several Russian travel agencies have gone bust.

“The government’s call to take vacations at home and to buy Russian products is finding fruitful turf in Russian’s national pride,” Suter said.

Neutral Switzerland

It’s not just Switzerland that is affected: Russians also stayed away from the French Riviera this summer, with the number of private jets arriving from Moscow at the Nice Cote d’Azur airport suffering their first decline in five years.

As a neutral country, Switzerland hasn’t joined the sanctions regime by the EU and the U.S. Still, the government in Bern has pledged to prevent its territory from being used to circumvent the sanctions, and has forbidden Swiss banks from undertaking new business with Russians on the EU list, among various measures.

Tourism is far less important to the Swiss economy than banking or pharmaceuticals, and the tourism board estimates Russians staying home will cost the economy between 9 and 12 million francs for 2014. Still, Russians have been big-spending guests in Geneva, a hub for commodities traders, and at ski resorts such as Zermatt or St. Moritz. Their absence is further bad news for the Swiss ski sector, already suffering from unseasonably warm weather and a drop in euro-area visitors due to the strong franc and the weak economy.

–With assistance from Carolyn Bandel in Zurich and Ilya Arkhipov and Stepan Kravchenko in Moscow.

To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Bosley in Zurich at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fergal O’Brien at [email protected] 

Tags: europe, politics, russia, switzerland, tourism, ukraine

Photo credit: The Swiss ski resort Zermatt was a popular destination for Russian tourists. Valais Wallis / Flickr