The first groups of some 12,000 Chinese tourists have arrived in Switzerland to enjoy the benefits of the largest-scale work incentive trip ever sent to the Alpine country.
Swiss tourism officials are pulling out all the stops for the trip, which has been sponsored by Jeunesse Global,external link an American health and beauty products sales company.
The tourists, who surpassed the company’s sale targets for its products in China, were said to be rewarded with a tour of iconic sights including the Rheinfall, Europe’s largest waterfall, the Titlis mountain and shopping in the cities of Lucerne, Basel and Zurich.
The group is so large that it had to be split into three separate batches of 4,000 tourists each to get everyone through the six-day tour by the end of May. Even so, tourism officials in Lucerne have coordinated with the police and local authorities to cope with these high numbers of people, including measures to manage traffic flows through the city.
The sheer numbers appeared to even surprise the sales company. According the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, the Florida-based company had only expected some 3,000 of its product sellers to meet the targets for making the Swiss trip. Jeunesse did not immediately respond to written questions by swissinfo.ch. It is unclear why it chose Switzerland as a venue for this trip and how large the bill would be.
Normally, these so-called “meetings, incentives, conferencing, marketing” (MICE) groups comprise of around 25 to 80 people. Only occasionally do groups get bigger than that, such as the 3,500 Amway India dealers who were awarded a tour of Switzerland in 2011. But there is no doubt that incentive trips are big business for Switzerland.
In 2015, they generated CHF1.8 billion ($1.78 billion) for the Swiss economy, although this was a fall of 18% from 2011. With 6.3 million overnight stays in 2015, the meeting industry accounted for 17.7% of overnight stays in the Swiss hotel industry (2011: 19%).
The Chinese trip is a massive marketing coup for the Swiss tourism industry that is expected to generate some CHF14 million of extra revenue for the areas being visited, according to media reports.
But the event may not be celebrated quite so enthusiastically in China. The Jeunesse salespeople are self-employed by a company that operates a so-called multi-level marketing (MLM) model. Each salesperson has to invest in the company’s products before they can start selling. They are then encouraged to recruit other people in a selling network. The more successful they are at this, the more money they can earn.
Such schemes are popular in China but have also attracted controversy and even crackdowns. A protest in Beijing in 2017 against another local operator prompted the authorities to crack down on many such schemes – particularly by banning bogus companies.
The year before, the state-run Xinhua News Agency identified Jeunesse as being an MLM-scheme but refrained from accusing the company of acting fraudulently.