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Graubunden region poised for influx of GCC families after Switzerland prepares to ‘open’ its border

Tourism officials in the Canton (state) of Graubunden, also known as Grisons, in Switzerland are gearing up for a busy summer as the Swiss government prepares to open its borders on 26 June to visitors from the GCC countries who have been fully vaccinated.

The new ruling, which was ratified on Wednesday 23 June, now allows GCC residents who have been vaccinated with a European Medical Agency (EMA) and WHO approved vaccination, such as Pfizer or Sinopharm (up-to 12 months after vaccination), entry into Switzerland without any pre-travel PCR test or quarantine on arrival.

“Switzerland and the Graubunden region in particular have always been favourite holiday destinations for tourists from the GCC and with the re-opening of the borders, we look forward to welcoming them again this summer.

“This year in particular, the fresh air, outstanding natural beauty, mild climate and healthy outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and sailing make it the perfect destination for family pursuits,” said Tamara Loeffel, Head of Business Development, Visit Graubunden.

And according to official sources, in the years prior to the pandemic, GCC tourists were responsible for approximately one million overnight stays per annum in Switzerland, with daily expenditure of around US$ 466 per day each.

Many of the GCC visitors are leisure tourists, travelling mostly during the summer months. Residents from the UAE and Saudi Arabia make up the bulk (70%) of the tourist arrivals to Switzerland from the GCC, with Kuwait and Qatar accounting for over 10% with the balance coming from Bahrain and Oman.

“With this latest announcement by the Swiss government, added to the existing pent-up demand, we are expecting exceptionally heavy demand from the GCC countries. Graubunden has to be nature’s remedy for a post-Covid holiday,” she added.

The Graubunden region is world-renowned for its natural spas, spectacular landscape, bright green valleys, snow-capped peaks and crystal-clear Alpine lakes, train rides through mountains in the Rhine gorge, hailed as among the most spectacular train journeys in the world. In addition, there’s exquisite Michelin star gastronomy, it is also possible to visit four different countries in one day – Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, or Italy.

The locals if asked, will say the region is so special because of its wild, natural beauty coupled with the finer things in life, obviously referring to its luxury hotels, shopping, and excellent restaurants.

“Besides the breath-taking scenery, there’s so much to keep the whole family entertained. Between Lenzerheide and Chur, there’s a toboggan run which is over three kilometres long, Switzerland’s longest and for children who love stories, the small town of Maienfeld is where the classic children’s novel Heidi was set.

“Moreover, many people will have heard about the glamourous resorts such as St. Moritz and Davos, but there are many other destinations worth exploring such as Vals, home to thermal baths that are built from 300 million-year-old stone and the countryside around Flims and Laax which is famous for its crystal-clear lakes,” added Loeffel.

Underscoring the demand for outdoor leisure pursuits, according to Outdooractive, a platform that connects a global outdoor community of over nine million enthusiasts, commented in September last year that outdoor activities were becoming increasingly popular because outdoor spaces naturally accommodate social distancing, which had ultimately led to 70% of nature trails, lakes, national parks, cycle paths and mountain passes reopening around the world.

Travelling to Graubunden from the GCC is also very easy, between them, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad fly 38 times per week to Zurich or Milan and there are excellent transport links via road or rail from Geneva and Munich as well.

The Graubunden region is also very familiar with Middle Eastern culture and most restaurants offer halal menu options and many hotels will also have Arabic speaking staff.

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