Switzerland is very popular with Muslim travelers. And that despite the ban on minarets and the burqa debate. An inspection.
"Halal Barbecue Cruise" is written on an info sign aboard the ship that invites Muslim guests for an evening barbecue cruise on Lake Brienz. Virtually all seats for the boat trip are fully booked. In the belly of the ship, the guest can feast on sumptuous oriental cuisine according to the rules of the Koran. Women in burqas or headscarves happily take selfies of themselves and the deep blue lake, while men pull on their hookahs.
Few places in Switzerland have embraced Muslim tourism like Interlaken, located between Lakes Brienz and Thun in the heart of Switzerland. A whole "halal value chain" has been established here. But other places are also catching up, such as Lucerne on Lake Lucerne. Many of the tourists who stroll along the lakeside quay toward the Lido come from Arab countries. Mostly they travel in large groups.
The wealthy families stand out: Arab men with wide-cut, cream-colored pants accompany their mostly deeply veiled women to stores or expensive restaurants. Several hotels like the "Palace" prepare food "halal", according to Islamic food regulations. Also in the "Palace" one is pleased about the fact that the number of Arab guests has risen since 2000 by nearly 400 per cent. The Swiss tourism industry, which has been battered by the strong franc, can well use this income.
Not every Swiss, however, can easily accept the sight of fully veiled Muslim women. The headlines on Islamist terror in France and Germany have also left their mark in this country. On the Internet, disparaging words such as "mailboxes" and "coal sacks" are sometimes said about women wearing burqas.
Switzerland will vote
Asked if she has ever felt resentment from the Swiss, a niqab-wearing woman in front of the Palace replies, "No, Swiss people are very friendly."But she knows from her environment that some Arab guests have been unsettled since the burqa ban in the canton of Ticino. The woman from Dubai also knows: A vote on a nationwide burqa ban is to be held in Switzerland.
Julie Paterson knows the Arabic customs very well. She lives in Egypt for six months a year and offers women’s tours as a tour guide. She lives in Interlaken for the summer. It has launched a highly regarded website for Arab guests: At www.interlakenforarabs.com, Arab guests can find all the information they need on how to spend their vacations in the Bernese Oberland as a Muslim.
The entrepreneur appeals to "tolerance, openness and willingness to engage in conversation with Arab guests". She herself has had consistently positive experiences with the guests. Julie Paterson: "Arabs are a very sociable people."
In most large hotels in Switzerland, however, one has long since recognized: Serving halal food is not enough. Hotel staff need to familiarize themselves with the way of life of Arab guests. Hotels such as the "Swissotel Zurich" are therefore working out a "Muslim etiquette" for their employees: In in-house training sessions, employees learn that their guests want gender-segregated swimming pools and spa areas.
Or that Arabs like to have a tea kettle in their room. The employees also learn in the course that Muslim women should not be looked in the eye for long and that they do not like to be touched by strangers. The well-trained staff also avoids smoking or drinking alcohol in front of Arab guests during Ramadan.
How would a burqa ban work?
Moreover, Arabic television channels and Arabic newspapers are available in the rooms of the "Swissotel Zurich. The employees at the reception can also show devout guests the way to surrounding mosques.
Hotels such as the "Baur au Lac," the "Park Hyatt Zurich" or the "Radisson Blu" at Zurich Airport also offer a wide range of Islam-compatible services today. Most of them are at the reception desk in the form of a brochure entitled "Guests from the Gulf States," which "Hotelleriesuisse" – the business association of the Swiss hotel industry – published together with Switzerland Tourism.
What impact would a nationwide burqa ban have on Swiss tourism? Karin Sieber, media officer for "Hotelleriesuisse," says her association opposes a Switzerland-wide ban on veiling "because the loss of image would be accompanied by a decline in visitors from one of the most important growth markets for tourism."