When you think of Switzerland, mountains, chocolate and watches come to mind. Of course, we are proud of all these high-quality attractions. Yet, many readers might be surprised to see this small, landlocked country is also a significant innovator and producer of renowned branded products, such as in the watch industry, food products, herb-scented sweets, or highly specialised pharmaceutical products.
When you think of Switzerland, mountains, chocolate and watches come to mind. Of course, we are proud of all these high-quality attractions. Yet, many readers might be surprised to see this small, landlocked country is also a significant innovator and producer of renowned branded products, such as in the watch industry, food products, herb-scented sweets, or highly specialised pharmaceutical products. And do not forget the reputation of Swiss engineering, banking, schools and the tourism industry. Other innovations are less visible to the consumer, such as highly sensitive scanning techniques or miniscule, yet utterly versatile, compounds used in "nanotechnology".
The importance of knowledge to the economy is also reflected in the fact that Switzerland has, with 30, the highest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita in the world. How did our country manage to gain such a reputation for innovation, quality manufacturing and servicing? Important factors are certainly the political institutions, social value system and general approach to upbringing and education.
Let's admit that there are also factors like peace and political stability prevailing over long periods. All these indicate that the innovative capacity of a nation cannot be simply a matter of sending students to elite schools. We have to look at a much wider perspective.
While Switzerland has had universities for more than 500 years, it was the establishment of professional schools on the secondary level that promoted the country's modernisation as an industrial nation. Quite clearly, apprenticeship holds one of the keys to the industrial success of Switzerland. Nowadays, 65 per cent of all lower-secondary school leavers in Switzerland opt for vocational training within the traditional system of apprenticeship that usually lasts four years.
Only 33 per cent continue with some higher type of secondary education, of which about half, or 17 per cent of the total, end up with a full academic degree. Highly respected craftsmen are the most important resources of Switzerland, for example. The only other raw materials we have are water and scenic beauty. This brings me to tourism. Switzerland offers not only an abundance of scenery, clear water and pure air, but also numerous enjoyable events.
Many museums exhibit major works, proving that Swiss people have been collectors of art for centuries.
We have many traditional festivals throughout the year, and more modern ones, such as the Montreux Jazz Festival or high-profile sporting events such as Weltklasse Zurich.
But let us not forget the richness of a different culture Switzerland has to offer. With its place in the heart of Europe and its four distinctive cultural regions - as determined by the four national languages - it can offer you a wide variety of food and wine. Switzerland has produced wines for 2,000 years and I am happy to note that several of them can now also be found in Hong Kong.
There are growing ties between Hong Kong and Switzerland. This is proven by the fact that as of March, Cathay Pacific joins Swiss Air in offering daily direct flights to Zurich.
Consul General of Switzerland in Hong Kong and Macau