Fall for Switzerland
Autumn and wine tourism key to attracting more travellers
Looking at the demand for what travellers want from a Swiss vacation, Martin Nydegger, the CEO of Switzerland Tourism, believes visitors are seeking the road
“It’s a new mind shift in the travel industry, which we can sense here that previously people had that sense of FOMO – fear of missing out – how can you go to Switzerland and not see the Matterhorn? But this is kind of fading out into a discover something new mentality,” Nydegger told Canadian Travel Press on location in Lucerne for Switzerland Travel Mart. “Don’t post the highlight which everyone knows, show us something which is a hidden gem, so we can see that already in terms of demand.”
Although Switzerland as a destination isn’t suffering from overcrowding, he said this outlook also helps spread visitors across the country.
“You hear at this moment so much about Europe in terms of overtourism, people are a little bit afraid that they might just have to queue up all the time. What we do is we want to show Switzerland in autumn, but also in different places,” he explained. “We really want people to discover the [country]. Of course, you want to see the Chapel bridge, you want to see Matterhorn and maybe Jungfraujoch, which is totally fine, but we really want to emphasize places like the Lavaux area, new places to discover, and I think that’s the new trend. People also ask: show me hidden gems, next to the tourism highlights and attractions, show me things that are still to discover.”
As such, the tourism organization is promoting itself as a destination loaded with wine tourism, which makes it worthy of a visit, since only 1.5% of Swiss wines get exported, as well as a place to visit in the fall with milder weather and as the leaves are vibrant shades of red and orange.
“It’s a little bit like the new face of Switzerland, which is, of course exaggerated; it’s not entirely new, but so many people know Switzerland in summer with the dominant colour green and the blue sky; they know it in winter with the dominant colour being white, so we want to give a new view of Switzerland,” he said.
Held in Lucerne Oct. 20-23, this year marked the 20th edition of Switzerland Tourism’s most important travel trade event. With the goal of increasing sales of Switzerland travel products and services, Switzerland Travel Mart is centred around two days of 20-minute pre-scheduled business appointments.
“We have almost 50 countries represented here and over 800 people attending STM, about half of them are buyers, the other half are destinations, DMCs, railway companies, hotels,” said Mirko Capodanno, manager Western USA for Switzerland Tourism. “It’s really a buyer-to- buyer conference with one-to-one meetings. The goal is really to give new ideas, pitch new destinations in Switzerland, new itineraries in Switzerland. It’s also to show what else can you do in Switzerland, more off the beaten tracks, think of luxury hotels, broaden the horizons a bit that’s really our mission.”
During the conference, Goway Travel was recognized with Switzerland Tourism’s Gold Flower Award. The awards ceremony, which takes place every two years in con-
junction with STM, recognize the efforts of top North American tour operators offering innovative and notable itineraries to the European destination.
“Goway has launched numerous new Switzerland itineraries including the Grand Tour of Switzerland by electric cars and by scenic trains,” said Pascal Prinz, director Canada and trade manager Central USA for Switzerland Tourism, who presented the award to Craig Canvin, vice president UK-Europe at Goway. “Additionally, they have launched wonderful winter experiences such as Christmas markets, skiing and city trips.”
On the US side, TAUCK and EuroBound were also honoured with awards.
“After a record-breaking year in 2018, the overnights are exceeding our expectations with a growth of 9.7% for the United States and 3.2% for Canada (January to August) so far this year,” said Claudio Zemp, the new director Americas for Switzerland Tourism. “We are thrilled that the cooperation between Switzerland Tourism and its partners generate the perfect products to stimulate desire and showcase Switzerland at its best. With the Gold Flower Awards, we recognize the most innovative tour operators.”
Toronto-based Marc Sison, director, product at Kensington Tours, said he attended STM to create close relationships with the suppliers and hotels that operate in Switzerland.
“This event gives us an opportunity to look for new suppliers in regions that we don’t have a lot of traveller traffic. Being in the business of creating customized tours, our product team is always looking for new ideas, new hotels, new trends and creative ways to make our offerings more unique. STM 2019 did exactly that,” he said.
Thanks, in large part, to STM 2017, he noted the destination has really taken off in the last two years.
“We recently did an extensive product push to promote the country, and we developed some very unique sample itineraries that took our clients to different parts of Switzerland. These itineraries displayed Kensington’s ability to personalize each experience,” he said. “We have strategically put together our offerings in Switzerland to combine their highly efficient railway system with unique private touring options, such as chocolate workshops, watch museum visits, cheese making and, of course, trips to see the different peaks such as Jungfraujoch, Mt. Gornograt, Mt. Pilatus and the Matterhorn, just to name a few.”
Meanwhile, Samantha Pezza, product design manager for Central & Eastern Europe at Collette, which has its headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, attended to connect with existing Swiss travel partners and meet with potential new ones.
“STM is an excellent forum for any travel company that has programs in Switzerland or that’s thinking about adding Switzerland to their offerings,” she said. “You meet with the best suppliers in the country and have an opportunity to learn about their services and products, as well as exciting new opportunities they have in the works. I left the conference with some great new ideas for exciting travel experiences I can bring to our guests. It is an event where you can really get things done and come back to the office energized and ready to create new innovative itineraries in the region for the next travel season.”
Pezza said Collette’s Switzerland product is among the bestselling tours in her region, and Switzerland is offered as a stand-alone destination, as well as a highlight on many multi-country itineraries.
“Currently, Switzerland is included in five Collette tours, and I am working on a new small group program for 2021 where it will be a major highlight,” she said. “The new program will be a multi-country Alps tour and in Switzerland will include mountains, lakes, trains, St. Bernard dogs, farms and fondue.”
For Emilie Prudhomme, junior product manager – Europe at Exotik Tours/TravelBrands in Montreal, the show was a great opportunity to meet face-to-face with the company’s partners and enhance her knowledge of the destination.
“Swiss hospitality is well renowned. They are masters in the art of receiving guests, and the STM was just overwhelming evidence of that,” she said. “We got fresh ideas for original new packages, and meeting so many people in the Swiss travel industry always allows us to better advise and assist our clients toward making their trip unforgettable. I feel like we are coming back from this event with stronger partnerships and an even stronger will to advertise it as a dream European destination for nature/culture and city lovers.”
Prudhomme noted that Switzerland is growing well as a destination for Exotik Tours.
“We send more passengers every year, and we always try to widen our type of offers so that all our customers can find a satisfying travel option,” she added. “We offer guided coach tours, train tours, self-drives, short breaks, FIT packages, and we are also planning on offering a
few new ski and hiking packages for 2020.”
Prinz said Switzerland Tourism remains committed to the travel trade, which is evidenced through initiatives like the Switzerland Travel Academy, through which agents can become certified Switzerland experts.
“It’s a great three-hour training, they get a diploma, they can specialize in certain topics, such as winter, summer, outdoors or gastronomy,” he said. “We host webinars every two weeks, and we really do so much training because an agent the more he or she knows the better he sells the destination. They’re very important, they are crucial.”
In addition to winning a flight to Switzerland, Capodanno said travel advisors who become experts through myswitzerland.com/trade can request an all-encompassing eight-day first class Swiss Travel Pass to travel across the country.
“Travel advisors are hugely important to us, and we see an increase in travel from North America that comes from both travel advisors and tour operators,” he said.
Another thing travel agents can take advantage of is Swiss International Air Lines’ newly launched stopover program, giving travellers the opportunity to layover in Switzerland from one to four nights through 11 packages like Glacier Express, Best of Switzerland and Luxury Switzerland.
“We’ve been doing this since the beginning of the year, and it’s doing really well,” said Nydegger. “Surprisingly, better in B2B than in B2C, but that’s a good business case because this is something that needs advice, it’s something that has to be explained. And, therefore, it’s a chance to give that piece of information as a travel agent or as a tour operator to the customer and it adds value.”
Pointing to the recent elections in Switzerland, Nydegger said the year ahead will be interesting as the destination continues to focus on sustainability and being more environmentally friendly.
“Travellers are more and more conscious of what damage do we do by travelling. As a tourism industry we are in that dilemma, not just us as Switzerland, but the entire world. Everyone creates damage to the environment by going and appreciating the environment. I think we, in Switzerland, are in a good position because so much of Switzerland is already sustainable,” he said. “The tourism industry is actually a rather fragile industry. The moment something happens be it a currency exchange rate fluctuation, be it the weather, be it a geopolitical issue, something happens in the world, tourism is touched. That’s a challenge we’re all facing as an industry. The moment something happens you can immediately feel it. That means we have to be incredibly agile. We have to react to do those fluctuations which are constantly happening.”