Zurich Airport: the gateway to Switzerland
Zurich Airport is an essential foundation of Swiss tourism, and its significance is growing continuously with the increasing numbers of guests from faraway countries.
Switzerland continues to be one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the Alpine region and enjoys great popularity all over the globe. So it is no surprise that the tourism industry in Switzerland still makes a crucial contribution to the prosperity of the country despite the strong Swiss franc and competition from emerging economies elsewhere in the world. Tourism in Switzerland is the source of employment for more than 150,000 people and contributes around CHF 16 billion in value creation. This sustained strength and dependability should not be taken for granted, and it has its origins in the high quality of service provided by the country’s hotels, catering businesses and tourism service providers as well as in the outstanding accessibility of Switzerland.
Chinese tourism to Switzerland is on the rise
This accessibility and especially the fast, direct connections to Switzerland from overseas, the Gulf States and Asia play an ever more important role given the strongly growing numbers of visitors from these regions of the world. For instance, in 2005 German tourists were responsible for 17% of all overnight stays in Switzerland, but by 2014 this value had dropped to just under 11% and it continues to decline. In contrast, the number of overnight stays by visitors from China, India and Arab countries has increased many times over during the last ten years and continues to grow disproportionately. In 2005, Chinese visitors made up just 0.5% of all overnight stays with 170,000 nights, but by 2014 that number had grown to over a million, and during the period from January to September 2015 alone, 1.1 million overnight stays – nearly 5% – were generated by Chinese visitors. With this increase, China is now among the most important countries of origin for Swiss tourism following Switzerland itself, Germany, the USA and Great Britain. Statistics for India and the Gulf States are showing the same trend, though at a slightly lower level.
Hub system ensures attractive direct connections
Zurich Airport makes an important contribution to the accessibility of Switzerland. Its intercontinental accessibility in particular is strongly underscored by the airport’s role as the largest national airport and by its many intercontinental direct connections. However, these connections are not self-evident: in many cases, the Swiss market alone is too small to support daily direct flights to the world’s major cities. So that these flights can nonetheless be carried out profitably, SWISS operates a hub system at Zurich Airport. Just as at a central train station, passengers are brought to Zurich on short-haul flights, they transfer to other flights, and travel on from Zurich to their worldwide destinations. The same is true in reverse. For Switzerland as a tourist destination, this means a number of European connections in addition to the important long-haul flights. These European connections in particular have a positive effect on the growing segment of short trips – city visits to Zurich or a few days’ relaxation in the Swiss Alps. In other words, functional hub operations by SWISS are existential for Switzerland’s high accessibility. The Confederation has also recognised this, and requires that Zurich Airport enable an airline to pursue hub operations.
Yet being a successful hub location is not self-evident: the aviation industry has changed rapidly over recent years, with competitive pressure increasing and European hubs competing ever more fiercely against each other. To date, Zurich Airport has held its own quite well. It offers passengers and airlines a high-quality, efficient infrastructure and wins awards time and again for its services. On the other hand, the airport has already reached the limits of its capacity during daytime peak times and can offer a hub airline – whose business model is dependent on high peak capacities – scarcely any additional opportunities for growth. In order to safeguard good connections to growth markets in future for Switzerland as a tourist destination, appropriate growth – and thus appropriate infrastructural adjustments – must continue to be possible.