People, Travel

Banning Burqa May Hurt Swiss Tourism

Banning Burqa May Hurt Swiss TourismBanning Burqa May Hurt Swiss Tourism

A proposal to prohibit face-covering veils for Arab women could prove another nail in the coffin for Swiss hoteliers already contending with an overvalued currency.

The strength of the franc against the euro has forced the country’s tourism industry to look to China and the Middle East instead of its traditional visitors from Europe.

Making it illegal to cover one’s face in public, as voters in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino decided two years ago, would make it tougher for the sector to attract the big spending Persian Gulf visitors it needs to offset a decline in guests from countries such as Germany, its industry chief said, according to travel news website Skift.

“Arab countries are an increasingly important market for us,” said Andreas Zuellig, president of the Hotellerie Suisse association. A ban “doesn’t really enhance our image of hospitality,” he said.

In Switzerland, the number of overnight stays by guests from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE almost doubled to 725,000 between 2011 and 2014.

Ticino, the southernmost canton, followed France in banning covering one’s face in public. Last month, Walter Wobmann, a lawmaker from the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party that in 2009 successfully pushed through a national referendum banning construction of mosque minarets, said he would start collecting signatures for a similar measure, arguing that “no free person covers his face.”

Popular initiatives are a key feature of Switzerland’s direct democracy and 100,000 valid signatures are needed to trigger a national vote.

“Banning the burqa is a threat to the country’s image and economy,” Zuellig said. “It is a dangerous development for tourism in Switzerland.”