When alpine countries such as Switzerland and France started tapping the Asian market around a decade ago, their idea was it’s the perfect source to plug the gap in summer, when business is slower than the peak winter season, which sees wealthy Europeans hog the ski resorts.

But Asia’s mass outbound market quickly spun off a luxury segment that can afford to travel independently and is adventurous to try new places and activities. Switzerland, seeing fewer or stagnating arrivals from traditional sources such as Germany, Italy, France and itself — a reason was it got pricier due to the strong Swiss franc — started to build in earnest a winter business out of huge Asian markets such as India and China.

The effort is paying off. An independent survey by Insightzclub commissioned by Club Med released October 25 shows Switzerland as the third most preferred winter holiday destination for Asians, after South Korea and top dog Japan.

The APAC Snow Brand Study 2019 surveyed 2,200 respondents in March from 11 Asian markets, Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. It defined snow holidays as a trip of at least two nights to a snow mountain destination of which ski or snowboard and other activities may be a part of.

Japan is by far the top winter destination for Asian travelers, with 65 percent of respondents having had a snow holiday there in the last three years, followed by South Korea (34 percent), Switzerland (24 percent), China (18 percent) and Australia (16 percent).

Though still a relatively small percentage, the good news for Switzerland is that more than 90 percent of travelers from India (96 percent), Indonesia (97 percent), Thailand (93 percent) and China (90 percent) are looking to plan a European snow holiday in the next three years. Switzerland is their top choice, followed by France, according to the survey.

Compared with other markets, India has the highest percentage of respondents (75 percent) who said they enjoy skiing and snowboarding.

Club Med operates only the Saint-Moritz Roi Soleil in Switzerland. The company said it is looking to open of one resort in the Alps annually, starting with this year’s re-launch of Club Med Alpe D’huez and the new Chalets at Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon, followed by the new La Rosiere in 2020. All three are in France.

How Switzerland Got There

Although Swiss regions compete hard for tourists, time and time again, they prove they could work well together towards a common cause, with the national tourism organization, Switzerland Tourism, pulling the parties together.

A “First Ski Experience,” for instance, sees 21 Swiss destinations such as Zermatt and Interlaken offering a program where a tourist arrives as he is, goes to the tourist office, is taken to a winter sports to equip him fully, then to the slopes. In winter 2017/2018, a total 2,757 visitors had the experience, 874 visitors more than in the previous winter season, according to Switzerland Tourism’s Annual Report 2018. Bookings came from China, India, Southeast Asia, the UK and Russia, with 85 percent of them being individual travelers,

Another program, “Learn to Ski in Three Days,” sees 42 Swiss ski schools promising to teach tourists to ski on a blue slope in three days, with a four-hour private lesson each day. The course could be repeated free if they still hadn’t learnt to ski.

“Although we don’t have specific figures, we know that the number of visitors has increased since the offer was introduced,” said Gaby Mumenthaler, vice director and head of marketing of the Swiss Ski Schools umbrella association.

On their own, the regions are themselves eager to tap emerging markets. St. Moritz, for instance, made a huge impact on India with ice cricket last year.

While ice cricket has been played in St. Moritz for 25 years, for the first time last year, India’s homegrown dairy giant, Amul, collaborated with the St Moritz Ice Cricket Tournament, held in February on a pitch comprising an artificial turf carpet laid out on a snowfield. Supported by the tourism body, the event saw famous cricket stars from across the globe participating in the event, the biggest icon being Indian cricket idol Virender Sehwag.

The matches, held over two days, were broadcast in 25 countries.

“With this event, we reached over 40 million viewers in 160 countries [including India and Pakistan],” said Engadin St. Moritz Tourismus CEO Gerhard Walter in an interview last year.

Why Snow Matters

The snow holiday market size grew 10 percent to 151 million travelers this year, over 2018, faster than the average tourism market growth of 6 percent, Club Med’s survey points out.

The growth can be attributed to “ease of travel, increase in travel options and increase in snow holiday products,” it said. Another reason is the rise in millennial travelers, and Asia boasts a huge population of them. Close to 68 percent of snow holiday-goers are millennials, and 92 percent of them are family oriented, the survey found.

Yet anther reason why the market matters is that it is high-spending, with 80 percent of respondents saying they are willing to pay a premium of on average $300 per person per day.

Besides skiing and snowboarding, travelers expect holistic holiday experiences, with 75 percent of respondents indicating that they also enjoy non-ski activities during their snow holiday. Spending time with family, reconnecting with nature, and getting to try local delicacies are among the top value-added services preferred while on a snow holiday.

Photo Credit: Family activities at a Club Med ski resort. Club Med