I have two neighbours here in Switzerland. The one nice. The other not. This is the nice one.
Like many wealthy countries, Switzerland’s population is aging fast. In 1960, the median age was 32.7. Now it’s close to 43. The fertility ratio is well below the 2.1 replacement level, at 1.54. The age dependency ratio has moved from 15.5% in 1960 to 27.6% today. But Switzerland’s incredible wealth hides the growing problem.
The country is attractive. It’s close to the top of most global rankings. The immigration queue is long. Few get in. Even the very rich can struggle. Roman Abramovich was refused citizenship because he posed a “reputation risk”. And for those who aren’t in the 1%, the cost of living is a concern.
The growing shortage of young working people shows up fastest in the job categories that are least attractive. When demand exceeds supply, the price goes up. That’s happening.
A recent experience provides an example. We had a problem with hot water. The plumber quoted CHF4,148 ($4,160) to replace the hot water cylinder, an extraordinary amount in any other country. Not only that, a little experimentation revealed that the hot water cylinder was not the source of the problem.
Refugees offer the solution. In a conservative country, that seems like political suicide. Not handled properly, it is.
Xenophobia aside, refugees become a real problem when they can’t or won’t integrate. Integration works best at the community level. National policies cannot create community acceptance. Acceptance requires leadership at the community level, and a community that is a community.
Switzerland accepts refugees. Anecdotal evidence suggests that refugees are increasingly turning to crime. In the past 9 years Switzerland’s overall crime rate has dropped by over 20%. That improvement hides the growth in some categories of minor crime. If the anecdotal evidence is correct, then some refugees are not integrating.
The two problems have one solution. Train the refugees to provide services that are becoming overpriced. To be sure, it’s not that simple. That’s where the community comes in. People working together find answers to challenges that initially seem intractable.
And working towards a common goal integrates the community.
The Taj Mahal is India’s premiere tourist destination. As one would hope, there are rigorous security checks at the entrances. But, if the officials responsible for the security don’t understand that they are manhandling one of India’s most vital assets, they are doing their country a disservice.
It was disconcerting to watch their handling of an American teacher. The teacher was carrying a paper cut-out doll, a well known children’s character, often photographed with the world’s leading landmarks, and shown to young students in foreign countries, who are then tasked with identifying the landmark, and writing about it.
This cut-out, according to the over-zealous official, was disallowed according to statute determined by the national assembly. The teacher’s efforts to appeal to logic were in met with disdain. So, she gave up on diplomacy, and explained to the senior officer that the official list of disallowed items at the gate did not include anything that could, even in the broadest terms, include the paper doll. The doll got in, but no-one won.
That experience was not unique among the tourists.
In contrast, a local youth carrying a hockey stick, apparently the weapon of choice among the young men in Agra, was allowed in without question.
India really needs its tourists.
Looking at the national statistics makes that clear. The country has a population of 1.22 billion people. More than 150 times as many as tiny Switzerland. Both countries earn the same amount from tourism – $16.6 billion. But India needs its tourist a lot more. Switzerland is running an international trade surplus of $66.5 billion, while fighting against an appreciating Swiss Franc. India runs a deficit of $80.15 billion and the Rupee is in decline.
The tourist in India soon realizes that the government is heavily reliant on visitors for its revenue. Every bill at hotels and restaurants contains a plethora of taxes, usually adding more than a third to the cost of the meal.
Government expenditures at 14.4% of GDP vastly overshadow the revenue (8.8%). It desperately needs the money because its not anywhere close to balancing the books.
Taxing tourists also acts as a disincentive, but with so few alternatives, one would expect an effort to treat guests well. Apparently not.
America is trying to get back the tourist trade it lost since 9/11.
In reminds one of the Barclays marketing case study in South Africa. Barclays had been losing its market dominance. The market research revealed that people don’t like being treated like dirt, and that the arrogant Barclays staff were driving them away.
The Barclays ad campaign told its customers that things had changed. But Barclays forgot to tell their staff. Customers found that nothing had changed, and the decline in market share accelerated.
In America, it’s not the beautiful vistas, the people, or the diversity that’s changed since 9/11. It’s the duress of travel, particularly when going through security. Often business travellers make sure that all the critical components for the trip are in their hand baggage. One lost item can determine the success or failure of the trip. And all those critical and often expensive items have to be unpacked making them susceptible to loss or theft while passing through security. It’s a little stressful, and signs of stress are what the security officers are looking for.
Travelling from different European destinations to America provide good examples of how it can be handled, and how it shouldn’t. In Switzerland, ready compliance with the requirement to unpack evokes reassurance that one’s goods will be taken care of and are secure. In France the same understanding is nowhere in evidence.
Perhaps the French are just trying to protect France’s status as the most-visited-country in the world.
America, in second position, will just have to try harder.