Things are different these days in Switzerland. It is a country of nearly 8 million inhabitants (officially 7,639,961) that has 4 official languages – German (which is rather a Swiss German and difficult to understand by Germans), French (Geneve), Italian (Tessin-Lugano, etc.), and Romantsch (which is mostly spoken in Grisons and nobody understands it unless they are from that region).
This year for first time, the Swiss travel industry inaugurated two significant Travel Trade Workshops (TTW) – one held in Geneve in September and one held in Zurich in October.
Why is that? Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland with its capital of Geneve, acts differently than the German-speaking part of Switzerland in the city of Zurich.
The TTW Zurich was held last week in the Kongresshaus in the middle of the town amidst heavy rainfall. TTW entrance tickets included railways tickets for those coming from Basel and other outside regions. There were 3,100 trade visitors and 137 exhibiters who came together during the 2-day event.
For 35 years, the TTW was held in Montreux on the shores of Lac Leman, and it used to be the most important outgoing market place for the entire Swiss travel industry. But with shrinking markets – and closure of 1,400 travel agencies in the country during the last 4 years, a new platform was needed.
By talking about outgoing tourism, Swiss clients have become highly price-sensitive and have started to book across the border in Germany, where packages are cheaper due to the strong Swiss Franc and differences of up to 300 Euros.
Swiss tour operators were discussing during the seminars that this has hit small agencies and their income. Yet, 50 percent are still booking from catalogues and through travel agencies. A survey shows that people between the ages of 65-74 prefer to book via travel agencies.
For the winter season, Swiss hoteliers fear a downturn of 5 percent, especially in the ski regions, and they are worried that guests will stay away from Switzerland this winter. This might be possible, as even the Russians and big spenders are coming less and moving on to Austria. Here they get pampered with everything printed provided in Russian, caviar en masse, and enough vodka to drink until you drop.
In places like St. Moritz and Engadin, over 50 percent of guests are coming from European areas, like Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Here, the tourist boards are busy inventing new concepts to bring tourists in, however, the fact remains that the exchange rate is 1.20 to the Euro, and this currency problem remains a challenge.
Some hoteliers are coming up with unusual offers. One of them is hotelier Kurt Baumgartner, Owner of Hotel Belevedere, Guarda Val, Belvair in Scuols (under Engadin). Mr. Baumgartner hands out a Gratis Ski Pass to all of his guests instead of lowering hotel rates. He believes, “Once you lower your rates, you never come up again.”
He has put his decision into immediate action by writing to all of his guests in a personal letter. Kurt Baumgartner is getting apparently a lot of positive response, as Ski Passes are quite expensive. “We are giving you the mountains for free,” he said in his letter, “Free Ski Pass and Mountain Pass – for all – even if staying ONE Night!”
Art Furrer Hotels (Wallis) is giving out Currency Exchange Coupons, for consumption in the hotel, to make up for the exchange rate, which varies and can be as high as 1.35 CHF to the Euro
Swiss tourism is investing 1.2 million Swiss Francs for promotion on the domestic market, which is still the most important market for the winter season, as it generates more than half of entire guest volume. Three million CHF are going to be invested in Germany, Russia, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Benelux Markets. Let it snow!
What about outgoing? Egypt is back! Bookings are back to normal for 2012 said Mr.Mohamd Kenawy, Director of Tourism Office Egypt, Switzerland. “The year has 12 months, and it is developing better than before. Flights out of Zurich to Egypt are fully booked, with people staying a minimum length of 10 days in the Red Sea – the most favorite destination, which is booked by over 80 percent – while culture travel covers a maximum 20 percent, which includes visiting Cairo. We are doing well, but culture is not in demand,” he said.
And what about tourism inTunisia? Mr.Abdenaceur Jerbi, Head of the Tunisia Tourist Office, thinks to lower hotel rates as result of the unrest is futile. He said that Arab spring hotel rates in Tunisia were already pretty low. Hoteliers who then lowered their rates drastically are bankrupt now. When prices are cut, service gets cut as well, and low-cost hotels are gaining new market shares, while middle-class hotels are suffering now. Swiss tourists prefer 4- and 5-star hotels, and they usually do their own marketing and promotion.
For the first time, Easyjet had a stand at TTW. It is still the largest low-cost carrier in Geneva and also the largest low-cost carrier in France by market shares, flying to 52 destinations. Starting at the end of October, the airline will add Bilbao as a new destination. It is a strategic position in Geneva – serving both Switzerland and France. Similar to their base, Geneva is another dual airport, with one side for the Swiss and an adjacent terminal for the French, which makes Switzerland so attractive, explained Easyjet CEO Thomas Haajensen while in Geneve.
Voilá – have your passport ready when going for a coffee on the other side of the terminal and entering a different country.