June 7, 2018 / 8:03 AM / a year ago

Swiss winter tourism booms as franc strength ebbs

ZURICH, June 7 (Reuters) - Visitors from Europe flocked to Switzerland in the winter season as a weaker Swiss franc helped make holidays more affordable and early season snow spurred interest in mountain resorts, data released on Thursday showed.

The hotel industry registered 16.5 million overnight stays from November 2017 to April 2018, an increase of 4.6 percent from the year-earlier period, the Federal Statistics Office said.

Foreign demand grew 5.6 percent to 8.7 million stays, while domestic rose 3.5 percent to 7.8 million units. Lots of snow that started falling early also helped tourism, as ski areas were able to open in advance of the holiday season in December.

German, British and French visitors led the gains among Europeans. Overnight stays by Asian visitors rose 8.7 percent, led by Chinese, Indian and South Korean guests. Stays by U.S. residents increased 5.3 percent.

Switzerland's economy grew robustly in the first quarter, as the weaker franc supported exports and global sporting events helped fill the coffers of the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee (IOC) and soccer body FIFA.

A weaker franc offers respite for companies squeezed by the currency's surge after the Swiss National Bank (SNB) in January 2015 scrapped a policy of limiting its value against the euro .

The euro in April briefly regained the 1.20 franc mark that the SNB had set as a floor before abandoning the peg. The franc has since strengthened to trade around 1.16 amid political turmoil in Italy, prompting the SNB to underscore its strategy of negative interest rates and a readiness to intervene in currency markets to curb its strength. (Reporting by Michael Shields)

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