There’s much to see, do and taste
(Photo above ©Sebastien Staub – Switzerland Tourism)
In the beginning, there was Thomas Cook — so to say.
Switzerland’s roots as a tourist destination can be traced back to 1863, when a documented tour led by the international travel company brought a group to the Central European country for a holiday.
“We have 150 years of history of Switzerland as a travel destination,” Alex Herrmann, director, North America for Switzerland Tourism tells Travel Courier. “Over 150 years ago, the first groups came from the UK, so you have all these mountain railways, and the gondolas, etc., that have been built that make it very easy to access the mountains, and then you have an amazing network of hiking and biking trails.”
Known for its stunning scenery, the Alps, outdoor activities, mixture of city and country experiences and, as the home of four distinct language regions and cultures, Switzerland continues to enjoy steady growth in Canadian arrivals. In fact, January to October 2017 saw an increase of 11.2% in arrivals and 8.6% in overnights over the same period in 2016.
“Switzerland has the answer to any travel trend out there,” he says. “Things like active and adventure travel — Switzerland is perfect for hiking and biking because it’s so accessible. Things like food and wine, today we call it organic, local, farm to table, here we just call it food. Many of the trends that you see in the food world these days with the local and the artisanal, all of these buzzwords, that’s just the way we’ve always eaten.”
With an increase in flights from Canada to Switzerland, as the Canadian dollar gains value to the Swiss franc, and with the ongoing addition of new experiences to be had in the destination, Pascal Prinz, director Canada and trade manager Central USA for Switzerland Tourism expects 2018 will be a great year for Canadian visits to his home country.
“Switzerland is an all-year-round destination,” he says. “Canadians are attracted to the unique mix Switzerland offers with the majestic Swiss Alps, four language regions, top museums, quirky boutique towns, festivals, and scenic trains.”
Here are just a few ways clients can experience the destination:
Thanks to Switzerland’s compact size, it’s convenient for travellers to take in the great outdoors — even if they choose to stay in a city.
“It’s very easy to stay in a city or stay in a mountain resort in a beautiful hotel, have a several hour hike during the day and then come back into the resort,” says Herrmann.
From scenic hikes to active adventures, Switzerland Tourism continues to highlight the many authentic experiences that await travellers in the destination.
“Where we’ve seen an increase over the last few years is people want to be more active on their vacation,” says Herrmann. “Switzerland is a hiking paradise, it’s a biking paradise. Canada is a beautiful country, but the experiences in nature are much more accessible in Switzerland.”
GET WINED AND DINED
When it comes to food and beverages, there are a few things travellers are advised to try in the destination. Take, for example, wine.
“To drink, they absolutely have to try Swiss wines. Only two per cent of all the Swiss wines are exported, so they’re really, really hard to get,” says Herrmann. “It’s all local production, it’s very artisanal the way it’s produced, it’s small vineyards, it’s low quantity, that’s why it’s hard to export. We joke, it’s so good these wines, that the Swiss drink them all themselves!”
Naturally, Swiss chocolates and cheese are another popular commodity.
“In the winter, they should eat fondue,” he adds. “In the summer, they should eat the raclette, which is the dish the Swiss also eat year-round.”
Another aspect that makes Switzerland unique is that its culture and heritage extends beyond that of the Swiss.
“Switzerland has a French-speaking part, a German-speaking part, an Italian speaking part,” says Herrmann. “We always recommend to go to at least two of the cultural areas.”
As food remains one of the easiest ways for travellers to get a sense of a destination, Switzerland has no shortage of local delights to try, as visitors make their way around the country.
“Farmers markets have been around for a long time and that’s something I’d recommend,” notes Herrmann. “Get to these farmers markets, go to see a cheese maker or a chocolate boutique and learn how to make chocolates. Especially these different language and cultural areas. Go to a vineyard in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, learn how to cook risotto in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. Food is a great way to get to know the variety of Switzerland.”
Spread across 1,600 kilometres and passing 22 lakes, five Alpine passes, 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and countless sights from medieval villages to spectacular cities, the Grand Tour of Switzerland lets travellers experience the country at their own pace.
“Switzerland has also launched a world premier — The Grand Tour of Switzerland is the world’s first official vacation route that can be driven end-to end in an electric car,” says Prinz.
For photography and social media fans, the tour also features photo stops — large red frames posted along the route — where one can stop to get their photo taken and document big moments on the tour.
For clients embarking on a river cruise, it’s easy to add a pre- or post-tour for clients in Switzerland, as Basel is the start or end point for many European sailings.
“We see a huge increase in cruising, a lot of people add a few days before or after a river cruise, and they tour around Switzerland,” says Herrmann. “This is a great way to get a first taste of Switzerland.”
GET OUT ON TWO WHEELS
Another active way of taking in the sights along the country is going for a ride — on two wheels.
“Canadians of all ages and fitness levels will be on a roll cycling along pristine lakes on e-bikes and trekking bikes in the flat parts or riding the Swiss Alps on road bikes,” says Prinz. “Switzerland will host the mountain bike world championships and car-free ‘Ride the Alps’ events. Canadians enjoy our top infrastructure, well-marked routes and bike hotels.”
GET ON THE RIDE
Of course, one would be remiss to talk about Switzerland and not mention its train system.
Rail lines run not only on an accurate schedule, but connect cities, mountains, airports, suburbs, and everywhere in between. There’s even The Chocolate Train, transporting travellers to Swiss chocolatiers aboard a Belle Époche-Pullman 1915 vintage coach.
“It’s very easy to travel by train in Switzerland, and I know that a lot of Canadians don’t have a train experience or rare train experiences… come to Switzerland, experience it, experience the rail system,” says Hermann. “Learn about the Swiss Travel Pass, which is basically a ticket to Switzerland, it’s much more than a rail pass. It includes so many more things.”
Be a Switzerland expert
Through Switzerland Tourism’s new Switzerland Travel Academy, travel agents can become certified Switzerland Travel Experts in three hours. Along with the rights to use the Switzerland Travel Expert logo, the program has different modules like families, outdoors and food so the trade can specialize in topics most relevant to them. Qualified agents can also win a trip to Switzerland.
“The travel trade is crucial for us,” says Prinz. “Our integrated training tools will give agents leads and increase their sales. Agents can call or write us when they have a lead. We advise them for free, host biweekly webinars and study trips with selected tour operators. Agents and operators also like our trainings combined with chocolate tastings or raclette cheese parties.”