In 2020/2021, the COVID-19 pandemic brings international travel to an almost complete standstill. Stay-at-home orders and travel bans for school parties and groups within Switzerland push the Swiss Youth Hostels to the limits of their economic viability.

«In 2020, the spread of the global pandemic brought Swiss tourism to the limits of its endurance and economic viability. The extensive travel restrictions, closed restaurants and wellness centres also hit Swiss Youth Hostels hard.»[1]

A state of emergency for tourism

The year 2022 brings the Swiss back their personal freedom of movement and the Swiss Youth Hostels the stability they need. The relaunch after difficult years of the pandemic has been a success.

On 27 February 2020, the NZZ runs the headline «The Engadin Skiimarathon is not taking place, but the tourism experts believe that many cross-country skiers will still arrive». The rapid spread of the coronavirus is to blame for the cancellation. On 28 February 2020, the Federal Council classifies the situation in Switzerland as an «unprecedented situation». The ski resorts are closed on 13 March 2020. The majority of visitors leave Alpine tourist destinations. Several months follow with constantly changing measures to limit the spread of the pandemic. During the lockdown, the youth hostels accommodate stranded business people and tradespeople, people in special circumstances as well as the military and other people who are supporting medical institutions during the pandemic. The measures taken by the federal government and the cantons to cushion the economic impact are very helpful. Nevertheless, the Swiss Youth Hostels suffers a historic deficit and a complete loss of capital during the two years of the pandemic.

In 2022, the measures that are implemented to contain the spread of the pandemic are gradually relaxed and lifted. There is a sense of relief and optimism. However, this only lasts a short time. Switzerland watches the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine with bewilderment and dismay. In response to the significant influx of refugees, the Swiss Youth Hostels decide to accommodate refugees in an uncomplicated manner and offer them short-term overnight accommodation until they have completed the necessary paperwork and registration. In the following winter, a number of youth hostels are made available to the cantons as refugee accommodation during their closure.

A new start

«Swiss tourism achieves a record-breaking year,» reads the headline in the Gastro Journal on 22 February 2024[2]. With 42 million overnight stays, Swiss tourism proves itself more successful than ever before in 2023. Such a rapid recovery after the pandemic years had not been expected. Overnight stays in 2023 are as much as 5.6% higher than the previous record-breaking year of 2019, the year before the outbreak of the pandemic.

«Tourism must not only be for wealthy people,» states Janine Bunte, CEO of the Swiss Youth Hostels since 2019, in an interview with the journal Blick in 2023.[3] Within the youth hostel movement, the focus has always been on community experiences, the responsible use of resources, getting to know people and foreign cultures, making friends, pursuing meaningful leisure activities and sharing a joy for life.

People’s needs have changed over the past 100 years. And Swiss Youth Hostels have, too. The organisation has masterfully succeeded in constantly adapting to the current needs of society and the current contextual framework, but without losing sight of the core objectives of civil society. Then as now, the Swiss Youth Hostels, together with the members of Hostelling International, provide people with limited budgets with affordable accommodation and catering facilities all over the world. In doing so, they promote interaction, joint activities and experiences outside the familiar environment beyond national borders, especially for young people, school classes, families and people with disabilities. These play a role in shaping a society where solidarity, responsibility and a love of life prevail.


[1] Cited from the annual report 2020 of the Swiss Youth Hostels

[2] Cf. Gastro Journal,  22 February 2024

[3] Cf. interview in Blick, published on 28 October 2023