Interlaken — Switzerland Travel Mart (STM) happily marked a return to travel planning and possibilities, welcoming 450 international buyers from 50 countries to meet and discuss with 300 Swiss suppliers over the course of the Oct. 10-14 conference.
Travelweek’s Publisher, Devin Kinasz, recently caught up with Martin Nydegger, CEO of Switzerland Tourism, who emphasized the significance of the annual conference, as it was the first STM to be held since the start of the global pandemic.
On Switzerland’s approach to the COVID-19 crisis, Nydegger says: “We’re not fully open, ignoring the pandemic nor in a constant lockdown. Last winter, Switzerland was the only country in Europe that kept its ski resorts open. That was the Swiss way, taking care of the situation and always taking it seriously.”
Although it’s looking more positive for the travel industry, Nydegger also knows it’s good to be cautious. “The key challenge at the moment is the uncertainty and the constant change of restrictions,” he says, adding that capacity still hasn’t reached 100%.
But with all this uncertainty comes a silver lining: travel advisors will be in demand like never before, he says, because people will need the most up-to-date information from a trusted source.
“It’s my opinion this is a really huge opportunity for travel agents, they can prove how important they are to the system,” says Nydegger.
Switzerland began welcoming fully vaccinated Canadians on June 26, 2021, simplifying the process by not requiring a PCR test or having to quarantine for entry.
Kinasz, who attended STM and has visited Switzerland on numerous occasions, can personally attest to Switzerland’s beauty and appeal.
“What makes this destination attractive is that it’s full of outdoor activities and you can spend time in the mountains, cycling or hiking,” she says. “The country runs like ‘clockwork’, so you feel very safe as all the necessary precautions are being taken.”
Getting to Switzerland
Canadians travelling to Switzerland can upload their Canadian vaccine certificates with a QR code to receive the Swiss COVID Certificate (CHF$30), a new travel option that launched on Oct. 24. It enables visitors to show their certificate and wander freely while in the destination, access indoor dining, attractions and museums and also provide contact tracing if needed.
With four weekly flights from Toronto and Montreal to Zurich and Geneva via Air Canada and Swiss Air, Pascal Prinz, Director, Canada for Switzerland Tourism, has seen a definite increase in Canadians travelling to Switzerland following an 85% drop due to the global pandemic.
“Canadians are getting fully vaccinated, which makes me very optimistic,” he says. “We had record growth before the pandemic. Canadians have travelled year-round to Switzerland – they love our Swiss alps as much as our cities. Switzerland is safe and open and we’re excited to welcome our Canadian friends back.”
The many reasons to visit Switzerland
Prinz also believes Switzerland provides a unique slice of Europe, one that offers “four countries in one” and a modern train system that provides easy access to explore this charming country known for chocolate, cheese and unbeatable mountain views and experiences.
Interlaken, host city of this year’s Switzerland Travel Mart, has been a favourite destination for Canadians, says Prinz, with double-digit increases in visitors for the 10 years prior to the pandemic. Being close to trains and airports and being able to experience nature year-round add to its appeal, not to mention its proximity to one of the country’s newest attractions, Jungfraujoch. Known as ‘the top of Europe,’ Jungfraujoch is a high alpine area of ice, snow and rock, soaring 3,454 metres above sea level. The Eiger Express tricable gondola takes passengers from Grindelwald Terminal to the Eiger Glacier in 45 minutes.
Additional UNESCO World Heritage and Biosphere attractions within Switzerland include the old city of Bern, Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, Monte San Giorgio, fortress of Bellizona, La Chaux-de-Fonds/Le Locle for watchmaking and the architectural works of world-renowned Swiss architect Le Corbusier, two which are found in Geneva and Corseaux.
High adventures in Switzerland
Named by National Geographic as one of the top 10 best outfitters on the planet, Colorado-based Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures was one of the suppliers at Switzerland Travel Mart.
“Our company was born out of adventuring in the Alps and there’s endless hiking, touring and exploring. We’ll keep expanding our product in Switzerland indefinitely,” said Brittney Clarke, Ryder-Walker’s Managing Director. “It’s really easy to be outside, there’s plenty to do and it’s safe and organized, plus it’s easy to navigate the trains and people are wearing masks. As long as you follow those protocols and are careful to a certain extent, it’s easy to relax and enjoy without worrying too much.”
Canadian tour operator Butterfield & Robinson, which offers three Swiss itineraries including Rhine River Cruise & biking and Switzerland Bespoke, was also present at conference. Mark Harris, Senior Travel Advisor, tells Travelweek that the company is confident that its clients will want to book a trip to Switzerland in search of its many lures.
“Switzerland has something for everybody; the landscape is so beautiful and super accessible,” says Harris. “You can have such a varied trip within this country, like exploring wine regions and then going to the mountains.”
Switzerland Tourism currently has a promotion with Goway Travel, with advisors receiving additional commission for booking Swiss itineraries, which range from an active fall vacation, winter ski getaways to train travel next summer. Prinz recommends agents sign up for the Switzerland Travel Academy to deepen their knowledge base and become certified as a Swiss travel expert.
“Tour operators and travel advisors are the oxygen of this recovery,” says Prinz. “There won’t be a recovery without the travel trade.”
To read Travelweek’s coverage from the Switzerland Travel Mart, click here.