“Make your clients dream,” said Pascal Prinz, director for Switzerland Tourism in Canada, referencing the “1,600 kilometres of pure bliss" that travellers can enjoy on a Grand Tour of Switzerland road trip that passes Alpine passes, turquoise lakes and charming boutique towns.
Prinz addressed travel pros on Monday (Nov. 16) to help kick off “Road-to-Switzerland,” a virtual event that provided tour operators, travel agents and media with the latest information, and tools, for selling Switzerland as a destination.
Hosted by Switzerland Tourism, the one-day event welcomed 32 Swiss suppliers and 77 North American buyers into a virtual marketplace, where partners exchanged product offerings, booked one-to-one appointments and prepared for 2021.
The event, in fact, is being presented twice to accommodate time zones across the continent. The second version is today (Tues., Nov. 17).
“The fact that the Swiss partners are back in the market shows our very strong commitment to the Canadian market,” said Prinz, who was recently named Chair of the European Travel Commission (ETC)’s Canada chapter.
The online gathering over Zoom – Switzerland Tourism’s first virtual B2B event – was also held to also highlight the fact that Switzerland is ready for travel’s inevitable reboot.
“Today is an opportunity for Swiss partners to reassure the tour operators that they are ready for returning visitors once the border is open,” Ursula Beamish-Mader, manager – media relations, North America at Switzerland Tourism, told attendees.
Preparing for summer 2021
Safety and peace of mind is expected to drive the market moving forward, and these are two qualities that Switzerland already embodies, says the latest research.
According to a recent study by the Deep Knowledge Group, a research consortium, Switzerland (and Canada, too) rank amongst the safest countries in today’s COVID-19 world.
Unfortunately, at the present time, leisure travel from Canada into Switzerland is not possible due to heightened travel restrictions.
Switzerland is part of the Schengen Area, a region comprising of 26 European countries that had opened to Canada on July 1 but has since closed to non-essential travel due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Despite this, Switzerland has eased its mandatory 10-day quarantine order for when entering the country – U.S. and Canadian citizens with residence in Switzerland, and dual citizens, can travel back and forth without quarantine.
“I’m convinced that Switzerland is the perfect destination for the first post-COVID-19 vacation,” said Claudio Zemp, Director, Switzerland Tourism Americas. “Our beautiful open Alpine regions, open spaces, outdoor activities are where holidays can relax away from the masses.”
“Our small cities are ideal – they offer fantastic activities in small spaces.”
Zemp suggested that the affluent traveller market in North America will rebound with great interest.
“Some major traveller revenge is building up,” he said.
Switzerland Tourism is eyeing next summer as the season for when international travellers – Canadians, for one – will return to the Central European country that’s famous for its glacier-encrusted Swiss Alps, world-class ski resorts, train system, winding valleys, medieval towns, chocolate and cheese.
“During the summer months, Switzerland was open for business and Swiss people discovered it as a holiday destination,” explained Zemp. “This has given us an opportunity to establish how best to run tourist attractions, hospitality and public transportation under the current circumstances.”
“You can be sure by the time your guests arrive, this position will be integral to COVID hospitality.”
“Clean is the new exotic"
In addition to being a safe destination, Switzerland also prides itself on its cleanliness.
In an effort to restore consumer confidence, tourism trade associations have launched a “Clean & Safe” label, which identifies establishments that have made a conscious commitment to complying with COVID-prevention protocols.
According to new research conducted by Development Counsellors International (DCI), secure and quality accommodations, along with beautiful natural environments, will be a priority for travellers in a post-COVID world.
Canadian travellers, traditionally, tend to gravitate towards exotic destinations, said Prinz.
But now: “Clean is the new exotic,” he said.
Prinz had the opportunity to travel to Switzerland in September.
"First and foremost, it was important to get on a plane again," Prinz told PAX of the experience. "There was an emotional element to it."
Prinz said he felt safe throughout the entire travel experience, from being at the airport to sitting on a train.
"It was great to be travelling again and feel it, first hand," he said.
Embracing the great outdoors
While it’s currently difficult to travel around Europe, visiting Switzerland is basically like visiting four different countries.
Switzerland, after all, is home to four official languages – German, French, Italian, and Romansh.
There’s also something to be said about society’s renewed interest in the great outdoors during the pandemic with bike riding and hiking, for example.
“If you want to experience the outdoors, and take a break from a digital life, you can do so many amazing things in Switzerland,” Prinz told PAX, noting how Switzerland’s winter ski season is still a go with protocols in place, such as mask wearing and crowd flow management.
Embracing outdoor life is one key message behind a campaign Switzerland Tourism launched in Canada in October called “I need Switzerland.”
The trade and consumer campaign, which includes a contest to win a trip to Switzerland, appeared in public spaces in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and online, and features striking pictures of Switzerland taken by Toronto-based photographer Michael Sidofsky.
“It was our way to give people hope,” said Prinz of the initiative. “With this bad news cycle, I think we’re all longing for some nice images, or something funny, or something to get us through the day, because it’s so heavy.”
Beamish-Mader said the campaign, which was planned more than a year ago, has been extended to the end of November.
“We didn’t get numbers in foot traffic, but the social media campaign exceeded our expectations,” she said. “The engagement of the consumer with our brand has been exceptional.”
Coming this December
Despite the pandemic, Switzerland has still managed to unveil a number of new attractions and upgrades.
The Jungfrau Region, for example, recently upgraded its V-Cableway ride in the Bernese Oberland, which transports travellers to “Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe” – a sky-high experience set against an epic background of ice, snow and rock in the Swiss Alps.
The upgraded V-Cableway is part of a newly-built terminal in Grindelwald that will open on Dec. 5th, and it will reduce travel times to the Jungfraujoch and ski areas by 47 minutes.
Switzerland is celebrating the completion of the Ceneri Base Tunnel, a new trans-European rail route that can transport travellers from Zurich to Milan in three hours (30 minutes faster than before).
Zurich Airport is also promoting a beautiful, new social and shopping hub called The Circle, which boasts retail stores, restaurants, a convention centre, a Hyatt Regency and Hyatt Place hotel, and even a university hospital.
These are noteworthy accomplishments, even if Switzerland, like all countries, wishes it could do more to grow tourism.
There are limits to what you can and cannot do during a global pandemic, which is something the tourism board fully realizes.
On the topic of integrating more COVID-19 rapid testing into the destination, Prinz said that “it’s not going as quickly as we, in the tourism industry, would like.”
However: “It’s a pandemic,” he said. “You have to balance where the tests are needed first.”
“We have to be a bit more patient,” said Prinz, “but with our strategy, I’m convinced that we are doing the right thing.”
Finally, travel agents are encouraged to become a Certified Switzerland Travel Expert by signing up for the tourism board’s Switzerland Travel Academy here. (It’s easy to follow and free).
“This will pay off,” noted Prinz. “We have seen many agents take our training. We are convinced this will help them book for next year.”
Agents are also encouraged to visit MySwitzerland.com/trade where they can access itinerary ideas, travel info, webinars and other promotional materials.
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