TORONTO — Your clients love Switzerland and want to book a winter vacation, but they don’t ski and they don’t snowboard. What to do?
How about another quintessential Swiss experience: chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, complete with the world’s highest 26-foot chocolate fountain.
Lindt’s Home of Chocolate, with the world’s largest chocolate shop and yes, a massive chocolate fountain in the lobby, is set to open just outside of Zurich in October 2020. Ideal for a day trip, Lindt’s Home of Chocolate will also house multimedia and interactive exhibits including ‘From bean to bar’.
It’s one of the many new selling points for Switzerland, a country where there’s just as much to do indoors as out. And that’s saying something, considering the country’s top-level winter sports as well as hiking and cycling opportunities.
Like many destinations, Switzerland Tourism is working hard to promote travel outside the busy summer season. Calling it the ‘off-season’ can understandably “put people off”, said Brett Walker, General Manager, Collette Vacations, at this morning’s Switerland Tourism breakfast event at Le Marché in Toronto.
Pascal Prinz, Director, Canada & Trade Manager Central USA for Switzerland Tourism, agrees. He prefers ‘shoulder season’. Or how about value season? Switzerland has a well-deserved reputation as an expensive destination but a trip here doesn’t have to break the bank, says Prinz.
And there’s plenty to do beyond skiing and snowboarding, adds Ursula Beamish, Manager, Media Relations, North America, citing the many concert series and festivals dotting Switzerland’s calendar in fall, winter and spring.
Visitation from Canada is still heavily weighted to the summer months, with about two-thirds of visitors travelling to the country between May and October.
For the latest year, Canadian overnights are up 4.5%, adds Prinz. Ontario is the most important source market, at 37%. Quebec, at 29%, has the highest affinity for the destination. And the long-coveted West is a growing market with increasing affinity, with B.C. at 16% and the Prairies at 13%.
Lift is good, thanks to carriers including Air Canada. From Toronto to Zurich, Air Canada offers year-round service up to seven times weekly. From Montreal, service to Geneva, Zurich and Basel operates up to 15 times weekly year-round with SWISS, Air Canada and Transat. And out of Vancouver, flights to Zurich operate up to nine times weekly (seasonal, with Edelweiss/SWISS and Air Canada, May – October), and from Calgary, two times weekly service operates to Zurich (seasonal, Edelweiss/SWISS and Air Canada, May – September).
While Switzerland is aiming to attract new markets, beyond the winter sports crowd, those skiers and snowboarders are still crucial for the destination in the winter months. They come for snow, and they get it. “We are the original winter destination,” said Prinz, noting that Switzerland has on average the highest skiing in Europe. His own list of selling points for agents looking to promote Switzerland to their clients, especially in the shoulder season, include affordability (“We are way more affordable than you think”), Christmas markets and multigenerational experiences.
Switzerland’s incredible rail system is another major drawing card, and also a year-round proposition for visitors. Martin Oester, Sales & Marketing Manager, North America for the Swiss Travel System, told travel partners at this morning’s event that train travellers can now book exclusive ‘Excellence Class’ service on the Glacier Express. Definitely not a money-saver, but perfect for luxury clients or anyone looking to splash out for a milestone trip, Excellence Class was launched in March 2019 and comes at a surcharge of CHF 420 (about Cdn$560). There are only 20 Excellence Class seats per direction, per day, says Oester. “It’s very limited, and very exclusive,” with plenty of perks including window seats for every passenger, says Oester.
Oester also wants agents to know that Swiss Travel System tickets are now all electronic. “They’re all e-tickets. Right from your mobile phone, Switzerland is all yours now.” More information is at stmoritz.com and mystsnet.com.
Agents can check out agent.raileurope.ca, says Rares Dumitru, Sales Director, Rail Europe Canada.
And Switzerland Tourism’s site for the trade is MySwitzerland.com/trade.