Lonely Planet guide creates anger in Switzerland over racial-profiling claims

Lonely Planet has sparked a controversy in Switzerland by saying police there engage in racial profiling, and after complaints by the country's tourism board, the travel guidebook is having authors on the ground check if it's occurring now.

The dispute began after New York-based media company Vice published an article on its German-language website that highlighted comments published in the Lonely Planet guides for Switzerland since 2012.

"Swiss police aren't very visible but have a reputation for performing random street searches of questionable necessity on people of non-European background or appearance," according to the guidebook, which has the same warning on its website.

As local newspapers jumped on the story, the tourist board said the comment is untrue and hurts Switzerland's reputation. The country gets almost 3 per cent of its gross domestic product from tourism, an industry that has been struggling in recent years due to the strength of the franc.

"Unsubstantiated allegations like this are defamatory," Markus Berger, spokesman for Switzerland Tourism, said by phone. The government-funded organisation promotes the Alpine nation as a destination for business and leisure travel. "Switzerland is very secure, and that is an important reason why people visit our country."

Lonely Planet's assessment of the Swiss police's behaviour is a "blanket statement lacking concrete evidence," the Conference of Cantonal Police Commandants in Switzerland said in an emailed statement.

Daniel Fahey, a Destination Editor for Lonely Planet, said the guidebook stands by the comments, which were based on reports received from tourists and travel writers as of 2017.

"Our writers are tasked with telling it like it is, without fear or favour," Fahey said in an email.

As the guide constantly reviews its travel advice, Lonely Planet will have writers on the ground in Switzerland within the next three months studying whether the statement still stands as they check in on the country, Fahey said.


Civil liberties advocates corroborate that black people and Arab-looking men often get subjected to identity checks without them having behaved suspiciously.

"Racial profiling by security personnel -- especially in trains and at boarder crossings -- is a problem in Switzerland," Beat Gerber, spokesman of Amnesty International Switzerland, said by phone. "But it's also a global issue, not one inherently linked to the Swiss police."

With the strong franc deterring visitors in recent years, Switzerland has stepped up promotions to attract tourists. Marketing efforts include advertising in India with offers for tours of mountain locations seen in Bollywood films. Last year, Switzerland and China jointly declared 2017 the official year of Swiss-Chinese tourism.


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