World Tourism Forum Lucerne 2017

Lucerne, 04.05.2017 - Speech by Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to welcome you at the fifth World Tourism Forum Lucerne. These kinds of conferences are an important platform for global tourism.

Switzerland has a long history as a tourist destination. And Switzerland has long been the host country for top international platforms. The World Tourism Forum Lucerne combines these two traditions. It is a place of exchange for prominent politicians, practitioners, scientists and young – sometimes a little boisterous – talent from around the world. Let us learn from one another and gain new concepts, perspectives and visions!

Particularly in uncertain times, this exchange helps us to remain relevant. I am therefore pleased to see that you, dear audience, have once again travelled from all of the regions of this Earth. 
Ladies and Gentlemen:
“Stay relevant in uncertain times!” I see three trends that cause uncertainty today. Trend no. 1: the questioning of globalisation and open markets. Trend no. 2: the focus on safety and security and protection against terrorism. And trend no. 3: digitalisation, which is changing everything, even tourism. Regarding the first trend: Tourism directly benefits from globalisation.

It is fair to say that tourism is more important than ever! Each year, new record numbers of tourists are recorded and new destinations created.

However, the advantages of globalisation are being increasingly questioned and the arguments are not always differentiated and fair. This is leading to protectionism in some countries. The Swiss Federal Council and I remain convinced that globalisation also creates challenges. But it is, and will always be, a big opportunity, especially for tourism.

Tourism increases regional wealth and boosts development. The challenge is to translate these opportunities into sustainable growth. On that note, the UN declared the year 2017 to be the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”.

However, to achieve this, it takes open markets and societies. Goods and service flows have to be able to move as freely as possible, and people have to be able to move globally without any significant barriers. It is important to meet tourism’s demand for the largest possible degree of barrier-free travel.

At the same time, and this is the second factor of uncertainty negatively affecting tourism, the highest standard of safety and security has to be ensured. The topics of openness and safety and security are closely interlinked. We can only address them together in a multilateral cooperation.

This is also creating communication challenges. Contrary to the prevailing opinion, for instance, the risk of terrorism in Western Europe is less today than 20 or 30 years ago when comparing the number of victims. With regard to trend no. 3, digitalisation is changing the world, and this development does not stop at tourism.

It is worthwhile to keep up with technological developments. It provides even the traditional players within the industry with a massive opportunity. A Swiss pioneer recently told me how he re-aligned his hotel in Lugano, which has placed him in an even better position to meet his customers’ demands. Hotel guests can submit individual requirements, from the size of the pillows to the room temperature, when booking online, and these are then saved in the system. Wherever possible, background processes are also digitalised at the same time. The success confirms that the hotel owner did the right thing. I would like to see such pioneering spirit within the entire industry!

Already today, the smart use of digitalisation is key to successful business. It saves costs, enables local SMEs to attract a global target audience and facilitates the development of new business models. Just as the Chinese language symbol for the word “change” contains both the words “opportunity” and “risk”, it is up to the industry itself to positively use this momentum. This also means creating trust, because uncertainty paralyses people.

I would like to discuss some opportunities and challenges in detail: In a first example, market entry barriers have dropped significantly, for instance.

Digitalisation is an enabler:
Today, it is simple for anyone to become a productive part of the value chain in the tourism industry. Even tourists themselves become active content creators by writing reviews for review portals and travel reports for social media or by participating in the sharing economy. This “opening up” to everyone increases competitive pressure. At the same time, an inexhaustible pool of opportunities and ideas is created. 

In a second example, Switzerland always provides top quality, including in the tourism industry. But we are faced with high costs. This has become even more of a challenge since the Swiss franc is overinflated, especially compared with the euro.

Digitalisation can help to reduce costs and at the same time further improve quality, through process optimisation, increased efficiency, robotics and clever algorithms.

Cooperations, especially in Switzerland which has a tradition of small and individual offers, are the third example I would like to discuss. Digitalisation can create new forms of cooperation and simplify and boost them. This promotes a development, which we welcome even without technological changes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these three examples can be compressed into just one word: Innovation ─ Innovation is the key to success. Take the courage to realise your innovative ideas! Such entrepreneurial spirit is important, particularly in uncertain times. As Albert Einstein once said:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

This challenge also applies to politicians. We must not place unnecessary obstacles in the path of entrepreneurs. In other words, we have to create favourable framework conditions. One such current example is the sharing economy. I feel that it would be unwise to react to each innovation by implementing a new law.

The aim is rather to create as much leeway as possible to let good new ideas grow. We only require regulation where it is absolutely necessary. The results are simple, flexible and future-proof rules. They should be applicable to all businesses. In an ideal case, regulations can be simplified and outdated rules revoked.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Swiss tourism policy will focus even more strongly on entrepreneurship, innovation and advantageous framework conditions. We do not provide the industry with ready-made solutions. But we support it in its structural change. We support young talent. You do not have to explain to them what an airbed and breakfast is, because they’ll invent it. Innovation is first and foremost based on humans. It is therefore particularly important to support talent. The education system is a topic close to my heart.

Tourism is an attractive industry with exciting jobs and interesting perspectives. This should be reflected in a well-developed vocational training and further education system. Switzerland’s highly flexible educational system is based closely on practical skills. Vocational training and further education opportunities in the tourism industry have a long-standing tradition and have become even more numerous in recent years.

However, the educational system must be continuously adapted to meet the rapid changes in the digital age.

Dear Guest,
Switzerland has always been an open-minded country. I trust that you will experience this openness during your stay here. International cooperation on platforms such as the World Tourism Forum Lucerne, the UNWTO and the Tourism Committee of the OECD is particularly important to us.

Switzerland highly values the services provided by the UNWTO and is an active supporter of the organisation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Taleb Rifai, General Secretary of the UNWTO, for his exciting talk this morning. I would also like to sincerely thank the Organisation Committee of the World Tourism Forum Lucerne, which has convinced more than 600 representatives from over 70 countries to visit Lucerne in Switzerland.

Let us exchange our experiences and make use of the global impulses from practice, politics, science and young talent. I trust that you will engage in valuable discussions and have a successful time at the World Tourism Forum Lucerne. And I hope that besides all the work, you will find the time to enjoy the attractive city of Lucerne, one of our top tourist destinations.

Thank you for your attention.

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