Switzerland Shows Us How Not To Deal With Travel In The Time Of COVID (Again)

a building with snow on the side

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I’m sure there are a wide variety of things that Switzerland is great at doing (making chocolates and making watches are just two that spring to mind) but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the country’s leadership is more than a little clueless when it comes to dealing with travel in the time of COVID.

Towards the beginning of December, we were given a very good idea of what the alpine winter ski season was probably going to look like. France, Italy, and Germany confirmed that their ski areas would remain closed until January (the French left the slopes open but closed the ski lifts) and Austria announced that it would open its resorts on 24 December but mostly only for locals (most visitors are required to quarantine for 10 days).

Switzerland, however, said that it would open its resorts “to domestic tourism” but took no action whatsoever to limit travelers from other countries from accessing its resorts. The country’s health minister attempted to appear noble by declaring that his country didn’t want “people coming from surrounding countries that are closed off and then for people to say that we are taking advantage of this situation” but no actual barriers to entry were put in place. No quarantine restrictions were introduced, no pre-travel COVID tests were required, no checks were made at the country’s borders, and no instructions were issued to Swiss resorts to limit the number of reservations being made by people with addresses outside of Switzerland.

Essentially, Switzerland may have been claiming that it didn’t want to capitalize on the fact that most non-Swiss alpine resorts were remaining closed, but the facts appear to indicate that the authorities really cared more about raking in as much cash as possible with little to no regard for what effects this may have on the spread of COVID-19.

Fast forward to December 20th and the Swiss authorities were in full panic mode. The UK had identified a new strain of the Coronavirus (one that appears to be considerably more contagious than the variant we’ve been dealing with so far) and Switzerland’s resorts were packed with vacationers from the UK.

All flights from the UK were halted (a sensible precaution) and then the Swiss authorities did something that even an imbecile would recognize as being pointless – they instituted a mandatory 10-day quarantine for all arrivals from the UK and South Africa and made it retroactive to December 14th.

Yes, people who had been in Switzerland for up to 6 days (at the point the quarantine was announced) and who had been mingling freely with everyone in the resorts (all the restaurants and bars in the resorts were open for business as usual), were now told that they had to self-isolate in their rooms for 10 days starting from the date they arrived in the country.

Why? What was the point of that? Do the Swiss not have an equivalent of our saying that involves stable doors and horses bolting?

If any of the visitors affected by the quarantine actually had COVID-19 they would have already passed it on to a whole variety of people with whom they had come into contact (which would include a lot of locals), so unless the Swiss authorities were prepared to lockdown entire resort areas and seal them off from the outside world (which they were not), this was a truly pointless measure.

The new quarantine measures led to over 400 Verbier-based UK tourists fleeing the country into neighboring France during the night and opening themselves up to fines of over $11,000 for breaking the new rules.

While there’s never an excuse for breaking another nation’s laws (if you want to visit another country you should be prepared to respect that country’s rules and laws regardless of how asinine they may be) it’s hard not to think that the Swiss authorities brought this incident (and the bad press that it’s generating) upon themselves. They welcomed visitors (and their cash) with the promises of beautiful alpine slopes, an open hospitality industry, and no quarantine requirements, and then decided to impose a pointless retroactive quarantine on them.

Rather incredibly, this isn’t the first time the Swiss have done something like this. Back in July, the authorities had to defend themselves from criticism following their decision to retrospectively expand their list of ‘high-risk’ countries which resulted in people who were already back in Switzerland (when the list was amended) having to go into quarantine after having been free to mingle with the general population for days beforehand.

Bottom Line

The Swiss knew that the cases of COVID-19 were rising steadily all across Europe and they could have chosen to act in a similar way to their neighbors and taken measures to ensure that their winter ski season wasn’t a colossal super-spreader event. They chose not to.

The opportunity to cash in on all the other countries closing down their ski resorts was too much to resist, so Switzerland threw open its doors to all visitors and then had absolutely no idea how to deal with the situation when it became clear that COVID-19 doesn’t take a break for the Christmas holidays.

The incompetence, ineptitude, and greed that are at work here are truly staggering and while my heart goes out to the regular people of Switzerland who are completely blameless in all of this, the Swiss authorities now deserve everything they get.

Featured image: W Verbier courtesy of Marriott


  1. Sounds exactly right to me. The Swiss and the Swedes have demonstrated a sense of moral and technical competence that the rest of Europe — and the rest of the World — should envy.

  2. While your overall points are correct, I do think the situation is more nuanced than you describe. My brother lives there and I spoke with him last week and he described the shortcomings of the Swiss system in dealing with something like this. From what he said, the federal government is comparatively weak and the cantonal governments are comparatively strong. This makes for a maddening hodgepodge of rules and laws much like here in the USA. I’m not excusing the greed and stupidity, or even the ineptitude but at least some of this can be laid at the feet of the Swiss system as a whole.

  3. “ the country’s leadership is more than a little clueless when it comes to dealing with travel in the time of COVID.”

    On the other hand, you also stated that they knew better, but chose to stay open anyway, which means they weren’t clueless.

    I see it as realists that evaluated shutting down versus staying open. They made their choice, and reacted as the situation played out. Yes, they “shut the door after the horses got out”, but I think in this case, they wanted the horses to get out (they shut the doors awfully slowly). Brits probably did what the Swiss wanted them to.

    What’s that saying, something about asking for forgiveness after doing the act?

  4. Last January I booked a two week trip to France for my husband, who was turning 50, and my parents, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The trip included one night in Vevey at Hotel Des Trois Couronnes. I booked a non-refundable “early bird” rate directly on their website that was only CHF 20 less than my parents paid booking with Travelocity, and theirs was refundable. So out of all the hotels, AirBnB’s, car rental and flights, this hotel is the only part of the trip that refused to issue me a refund. And I thought Switzerland was the hospitality capital of the world…

  5. RG- This was a NON-REFUNDABLE “early bird” rate that you were advised IN ADVANCE before you made this purchase that it was a “NON-REFUNDABLE” rate. NOW, since you don’t like the reservation you have all of a sudden changed your mind AND you want to blame the entire Country of Switzerland for your penny pinching ways. Talk about people with a sense of entitlement. From now on book a fully refundable room and do not argue with people because they have decided to hold your feet to the fire. NON-REFUNDABLE MEANS NON-REFUNDABLE!! Get it?

    • Actually, non-refundable hasn’t meant non-refundable for most hotel reservation made since April 2020…but feel free to carry on your rant.

      • It still means what it means Dr. Ziggy. Non-refundable STILL means non-refundable. So you are now an “expert” on the COVID vaccine? I am confused.I thought you were writing on travel deals. I am now to find out that you are an expert on the COVID virus too? Not even one minute of medical training but you RANT on about what another Country should have done? Stick to what you know. As a medical adviser you make a decent travel writer. If you do not like the Swiss policies then do not travel there.

          • I do not need any help, thank you. Especially from a person without one minute of medical training. You pass out medical advice like you are some sort of expert. I. Guess anyone that points out the obvious to you needs “help”. It seems like a brilliant Doctor like yourself could understand plain English.

            • Ok, you’re boring me now. As I clearly haven’t passed out medical advice anywhere on this blog (let alone in this post) I’m going have to assume that you’re either not very good at reading English (nothing wrong with that) or you’re a colossal idiot. I’m going to do you a favor and assume that the former is true but if you wish to prove me wrong, please feel free to keep commenting.

  6. I have got a suggestion for ANYONE that does not like Switzerland’s travel policies—DO NOT TRAVEL THERE. How simple could that be? Btw, how many NEW infections were there during the time that Switzerland “closed the barn door after the horses went free”?

    • That’s perfectly reasonable…if you make the travel policies before people ACTUALLY (I thought I’d use CAPS as you seem to like them) travel.

    • Wayne – You need to relax. I sure hope you don’t represent any Swiss company involved in hospitality or travel industry. Your responses are excessively defensive. I fully intended to make the trip but this little worldwide pandemic put a wrench in my plans as well as everyone elses. If I had changed my plans at my choice, I wouldn’t expect a refund, but it wasnt my choice. If I had booked after COVID was a known worldwide issue, that would have been my risk. It’s not that I don’t like the reservation (not sure what you even mean by that) and I’m not blaming the entire country of Switzerland. There is obviously a language barrier and you are not comprehending my or the authors point. This has nothing to do with giving out medical advice and it is definitely not a claim of entitlement, it is about businesses doing the right thing for consumers in light of a worldwide pandemic. They are clearly not able to provide the service I paid for, not to my fault or their fault. Airlines, hotels and other travel services all over the world made exceptions to their policies and issued refunds, waived fees, etc… I had no problems getting refunds for anything I booked in France, and my point was, since one of the things Switzerland is known for worldwide is its superior schools for hospitality and because of that, I was taken by surprise when a refund was denied. Travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine protocols remain in effect and most governments, the Swiss government and Cantons included, have passed aid relief for businesses and individuals. I’ve traveled to Switzerland, I love the country and its people.

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