As Switzerland’s tourism industry shifts its focus to experiential and individualized travel, agents and tour operators will have an increasingly important role to play, said Switzerland Tourism CEO Juerg Schmid during a media breakfast at the 2017 Switzerland Travel Mart.
The five-day event, which took place in the mountain resort town of Davos, was the largest STM to date, Schmid said, welcoming approximately 480 buyers and media from more than 50 countries to meet with 350 Switzerland travel suppliers during a two-day trade show, generating an estimated $25 billion in business. The show was bookended with opening ceremonies on the home ice of the Hockey Club Davos featuring a performance by Swiss figure skater Stephane Lambiel, an Olympic silver medalist in the 2006 Winter Games, closing with an Alpine party in the mountain valley of Davos Sertig.
Schmid said that approximately one third of Switzerland’s total 92 million overnights are generated via travel agents and tour operators, underscoring the importance of the travel trade in the country’s tourism sector.
“People want to learn and experience a destination,” Schmid said, describing travel agents as taking on the role of “experience advisors” in selling Switzerland. “In an increasingly digitized and globalized world, there’s a yearning for nature and authenticity.”
Switzerland Tourism CEO Juerg Schmid
The strategy will continue to focus on tourism draws such as Switzerland’s varied landscapes and opportunities for a wide range of outdoor activities, from skiing and snowboarding to sailing and watersports in summer. In addition to a focus on experience, Schmid said that tourism in Switzerland is also trending toward FIT and small group experiences versus large escorted tours, adding that multigenerational travel is a growing part of the small group segment.
In addition to a 6.8 per cent increase in Canadian overnights from January to July this year, Schmid said that “Asia is booming” with massive increases recorded in the Indian and Chinese markets.
Regarding the impact of recent terror attacks in neighbouring countries, Schmid said that while such incidents may have provided a moderate increase of North American visitors to Switzerland who may have otherwise travelled to other countries, a noticeable decline took place temporarily in travellers from Asia, who often combine multiple countries on a single European visit.
New Canadian manager
Two days before the official opening of this year’s STM, Pascal Prinz was announced as the new market manager for Canada, with the announcement coming just two days following a farewell reception for former Canada manager Evelyn Lafone, who held the role since 2014. Lafone has been appointed as Switzerland Tourism’s market manager for Southern Germany, based in Stuttgart.
Switzerland Tourism held a farewell reception in Toronto last week for Evelyn LaFone, who has been appointed market manager for Southern Germany. Of Switzerland Tourism: Alex Herrmann, director, North America; Ursula Beamish-Mader, manager - media relations, North America; Evelyn Lafone, market manager, Southern Germany.
Prinz, who has been with the organization since 2013, was formerly in charge of the U.S. East Coast and will continue to represent Switzerland Tourism in the Midwestern U.S. and Texas. Prinz will start his new role in the board’s Toronto office on Nov. 1.
“I’m very much looking forward,” Prinz told PAX. “Canada has a special place in my heart – I love Canadian values and we have many things in common. There’s a lot of aspects of Switzerland which appeal to Canadians, including our culture and the mix of languages.”
Dana Toma, director of Europe product for Toronto-based Kensington Tours (which was one of STM 2017’s Goldflower Award recipients) told PAX that this year’s STM yielded a number of potential new luxury products for the tour operator.
“I was glad to learn more about new outdoor adventure tours which could fit perfectly for our guests,” Toma said, “as well as explore some opportunities for more private experiences for our high-end clients - vineyards visits with tastings, Tesla driving experience or chocolate workshops & factory visits to name just a few.”
Toma said that Switzerland is a key destination for Kensington, packaged together with other European countries such as Italy, France, Austria and Germany.
“We had a record number of sales for both agent and direct in the last year,” she explained, “which shows us there is a lot of demand for the destination. Our private experiences and the team of destination experts give peace of mind to the travel agents who book with Kensington Tours.”
Dana Toma, director of Europe product for Toronto-based Kensington Tours and Pascal Prinz, Switzerland Tourism's newly-appointed market manager for Canada
For Rares Dumitru, regional sales director of Rail Europe Canada, the show provided a chance to meet with partners both new and established. The company, which specializes in European rail passes, sells the Swiss Travel Pass in Canada, which offers access across Switzerland’s transportation network including railways, cable cars, boat and buses. According to Swiss Travel System CEO Maurus Lauber, sales of the pass in Canada have increased 13 per cent year-over-year in 2017.
“We’re basically looking to establish new relationships plus there’s a lot of partners who we’ve been working with for a long time now,” Dumitru told PAX, “so it’s a matter of reaffirming that we are the one and only choice when it comes to trains in Europe for the Canadian market.
“It’s really the only way to travel in Switzerland. It’s so comprehensive and covers pretty much everything so you don’t need anything else. And if there’s one country you need to see by train, it’s Switzerland! We sell one piece of the puzzle – but it’s a very important piece.”
Rares Dumitru, regional sales director of Rail Europe Canada
Davos to welcome Hard Rock
PAX also learned that the resort town of Davos will be the site of mainland Europe's first Hard Rock Hotel, when the Spenglers Hotel Davos is converted and reopened on Dec. 1. Residing in an historic 130-year-old building, Hard Rock Hotel Davos will feature 111 redesigned rooms, including 31 serviced one- to three-bedroom apartments. In addition to three conference rooms, an on-site, historic chapel will also be available for booking, containing a modern sound system, natural acoustics, fully-functioning organ and adaptable lighting, ideal for banquets, weddings, private concerts and events.
For those looking to hit the slopes, the hotel will also offer guests a ski room where they can store equipment and gear. The property will also boast a wellness center, including a Body Rock workout facility and a Rock Spa, complete with the company's music-infused Rhythm & Motion spa menu, five treatment rooms and a yoga studio.
Mariann Tamasay, convention sales manager, Spenglers Hotel Davos