Start your engines, and may the best Swiss travel experts, win!
Canadian travel advisors are flying to Zurich, Switzerland today (Aug. 27), and then heading to Basel, to compete in the Air Canada Race, a fun, friendly (and fierce) competition that allows frontline agents to work in teams and engage with destinations to drive future business.
The overseas event, which PAX will be covering in Switzerland from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2, is hosted by Air Canada and Switzerland Tourism, who, together, selected 36 travel advisors to participate.
This weekend, attendees (who became Swiss travel experts through Switzerland Travel Academy in advance) will be divided into teams and be tasked with solving a series of on-location challenges, riddles and clues in a bid for victory.
The event is “a bit like The Amazing Race [the TV show],” Pascal Prinz, director for Switzerland Tourism in Canada, told PAX prior to the trip.
In addition, the trip will also include meetings with local suppliers, hotel visits and tours through gorgeous Swiss communities throughout next week.
“We can’t wait to show [agents] what travel in Switzerland looks like on the ground,” Prinz said. “The trade is crucial to restoring confidence in travel.”
Switzerland opens to Canadians
It’s an exciting adventure as the trip is Switzerland's first major trade mission involving travel advisors and trade media in nearly 18 months.
Canada’s interest in Switzerland – known for its Alpine passes, turquoise lakes, boutique towns, chocolate and cheese – was on the rise just before the pandemic hit. In 2019, the destination saw arrivals increase by nearly three per cent.
Last June, the Swiss government officially opened its border to fully vaccinated Canadians – travellers with a full series of EMA/WHO-approved doses can, currently, enter without quarantine or a PCR test.
Prinz, for one, is looking forward to showing advisors just how Switzerland has adapted to the needs and demands of today’s new world.
Switzerland’s ''Clean & Safe'' program, a label that identifies enhanced safety and hygiene measures used by suppliers, is one of many steps the country has taken to safely restart tourism.
Switzerland has long had a reputation for being a clean place, but now that “clean is the new sexy,” it’s effectively positioned to attract interest during and after the pandemic, Prinz said.
And it's "a big deal” having Canadian agents see it all for themselves.
“The best way we can support agents is to bring them to our destination,” Prinz said. “We want to show them what it’s like to board the plane, arrive in Zurich, take the train…”
And they’re off!
Upon arrival at Zurich Airport from Toronto on Saturday (Aug. 28), participates will transfer, by train, to beautiful Basel, an iconic arts and culture hub.
The brand new Mövenpick Hotel Basel, which opens this weekend, will be home base for the first few days (the agents participating in this trip will literally be among the first guests to stay at the hotel).
Here, agents will be able to connect with Switzerland Tourism officials as well as leaders from Air Canada and the Swiss Travel System.
Sunday (Aug. 29) is Race Day and agents, divided into six groups, will take off into town and compete in a scavenger-hunt like race dictated by challenges and instructions.
(There’s a “fabulous” grand prize in store for the winners,” Prinz said).
Then, later in the week, supplier workshops, dinners, street tours, hikes and excursions to picturesque Lucerne, Engelberg and Gstaad will take place.
Time to shine
Members from Air Canada’s leadership team will be joining too, including Lisa Pierce, vice-president, Canada and USA Sales and Nino Montagnese, vice-president of Air Canada Vacations.
Agents started preparing for this race in May, Pierce told PAX, and it was a “leap of faith” to even start organizing it all without knowing what global travel conditions would look like come August.
That being said, this year’s Air Canada Race (the airline’s eighth edition) provides a “unique opportunity," Pierce explained.
“It’s up to all of us in the industry to show that level of confidence and courage to plan a trip and set the example for mutual customers with science and safety in mind,” Pierce said.
It’s also a chance for travel advisors to “really shine and show their value,” she said, especially given how complicated travel has become.
But the trip, most of all, is “a big thank you” to agents for working hard and pushing through the pandemic.
“We could not have survived without the agency community,” Pierce said. “We showed our partnership, it wasn’t easy, it was challenging.”
“This is a great opportunity to thank agents for the work they have done.”