Switzerland opens nine more visa application centres in China


Siro Barino, managing director, Swiss Deluxe Hotels

SWISS exhibitors at ILTM Asia are flaunting a circular that gives them a further boost in the China market – nine more Visa Application Centres (VACs) in mainland China will be operational by mid-July, while a portable biometric visa service which is under trial will make it even easier for Chinese to apply for a Swiss Schengen visa.

Currently, visas can be applied for at six VACs in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan. The nine new centres will be in Changsha, Chongqing, Fuzhou, Hangzhou, Jinan, Kunming, Nanjing, Shenzhen and Xi’an.

Further, TTG Asia e-Daily understands that the portable biometric visa service will see an officer going to tour operators, MICE planners, corporates and end-consumers in cities without a VAC to collect the biometric fingerprints of passengers. This is being tested with selected travel trade partners, with details such as cost and timing to be communicated in the coming weeks.

Swiss Deluxe Hotels, which comprises 41 luxury hotels in Switzerland, expects more guests from China, a market that has grown 20-30 per cent in the last seven years and now numbers around 1.5 million travellers a year, according to managing director Siro Barino.

Barino said: “More VACs will help, but the main reason why the market will grow in the next 10 years is because the wealthy Chinese are switching from spending on luxury items such as buying watches when they are in Switzerland, to spending on travel itself. They want to get to know the destination in more in-depth ways, i.e., travel becomes the reason itself.

“This mega trend is normal. The first generation travels to see a destination. The second travels to see the details of the destination, with the possibility of returning two or three times.”

China is now one of the top five international markets for Swiss Deluxe Hotels, accounting for six per cent of their business. Asian markets too have grown (except for Japan which dipped because of its economy) and now contributes eight to 10 per cent of business, said Barino.

Mark Jacob, managing director of the ultra-luxe Dolder Grand Zurich, said: “More VACs will help for sure. The easier it is, the fewer obstacles there are in their way, the more likely travellers will choose the destination.

“We’re also seeing changing Chinese customers who are younger – the second generation who travel as a couple or with friends and stay three or four nights in one location because they are interested in fine dining, learning about the art collection at the hotel, interacting with local people, and such. They are more immersive and we’re able to cater to this changing clientele.”

Victor Xu, sales director China for several Swiss attractions including Chronoswiss and Lake Lucerne, is pleased with the news as he said this year was looking flat after last year’s 40 per cent growth from China. He attributed this to the slowdown in China’s economy.

“On the other hand, Switzerland is seen as safe and now, getting a visa will be so much easier,” said Xu.

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