More than 700 international delegates gathered at the foot of the Matterhorn to celebrate all things Swiss at the Switzerland Travel Mart, held Sept. 22 and 23.
Taking place every two years in a different city, STM is the most important trade show for Switzerland’s tourism industry and the choice of location for this year’s edition was not a coincidence: 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the colossal mountain, which served as a beautiful backdrop throughout the conference.
Tourism Switzerland and their partners were very clear about what their focus is going to be for the next year: the Grand Tour Switzerland. This scenic and comprehensive tour of the country, which can be done by self-drive or by train using the Swiss Travel Pass, encompasses the best of Switzerland and takes visitors along 22 lakes, 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites, two Biosphere reserves and five Alpine passes.
In spite of the plummeting loonie, overnights by Canadian travellers have grown by two per cent in the first half of 2015, setting a new record.
“We do find that the interest for Switzerland is still strong. We’ve had a stable increase in overnights, perhaps because Switzerland is a premium destination primarily visited by clients for whom budget isn’t necessarily a concern,” explained Alex Herrmann, director Americas at Switzerland Tourism.
On the topic of marketing in Canada, Jürg Schmid, CEO of Switzerland Tourism, felt that the love story between Canadians and the Swiss is worth more than the few francs lost in conversion: “We don’t have the wide open spaces, we don’t have the wilderness, but our nature is easily accessible and Canadian visitors love that.” He also pointed out that more and more North Americans visit Switzerland as the starting or ending point of their European holiday: “A great deal of Canadians travelling to Switzerland will also travel to neighbouring countries – with Switzerland being so central, it’s easy to combine side trips to Italy, Germany, and France, with our efficient trains and SWISS’ European flights.”
The coming year will be a busy one in terms of cultural tourism in Switzerland; in Zürich alone, the FIFA World Football Museum is expected to open its doors in the first half of the year, while the Swiss National Museum will finish constructing its newest wing. On the other side of the country, the Montreux Riviera will soon welcome the Charlie Chaplin Museum and cultural centre, which will be located on the estate where the actor and his family once lived. And to top everything off, Switzerland will inaugurate the world’s longest and deepest train tunnel named Gotthard, which will be 57-kilometres long and will link northern and southern Europe through the cantons of Uri and Ticino.
Although a Switzerland e-course for travel agents has been offered in Canada for quite some time, it is currently being promoted in light of the development of the French language version of the course, which will become available to agents in February.
“The course explains how to get to and around Switzerland, from the mountains to the cities. It doesn’t take up more than three hours, so we encourage agents to register. And if they do take the course, they are automatically entered to win a holiday to Switzerland for two people including flights”, explained Evelyn Lafone, market manager Canada for Switzerland Tourism.
Herrmann was also quick to point out that other programs are also available to Canadian travel agents.
“We also have 30-minute webinars every other week which usually presents a city or a regional Swiss hotel,” he said. “The webinars are recorded so they can be watched at any time, and they have been very popular with agents.”
Switzerland Tourism is planning the first ever FAM trip exclusively for Canadian travel agents and tour operators next spring. Direct consumer campaigns are also planned for 2016, along with a launch in Toronto for 100 agents that will showcase the Pearson Express and the Swiss Travel System at Union Station in April.