Mr. Krebs shares with us why Switzerland should be the preferred holiday destination in 2010
How have tourism arrivals to Switzerland been during 2009? What are the expectations for the current year from India and the various markets that you are responsible for as Director for Switzerland Tourism?
For 2009 we had a small loss in terms of our worldwide market growth. We compare it with 2008 which was the best year ever in the tourism history of Switzerland. Due to the international financial crisis and various consequences for the international travel industry, an overall loss of 5% will be the result. But it is still a very good outcome. In figures, we will attain 35.4 million overnights in our hotels. For India in the coming year, we aim to maintain the arrivals and the overnights.
India is one out of 5 strategic growth markets for Switzerland (in addition to China, Russia, Spain and the Gulf Countries). Specifically, India is positioned 13th amongst all our incoming foreign markets.
How many visitors from India travel to Switzerland every year and what is the expected percentage growth in the coming year?
We have achieved 140000 travellers to Switzerland and nearly 340000 overnights. We expect a slight growth of 2% for the year 2009 and have targeted a growth of 5% for 2010. My personal expectations however are even higher and, barring any international crises, I am convinced we will achieve a growth of 8%.
As India is a growing market are there any plans to have a dedicated Director for this market in the future?
We are very pleased to introduce Mr. Michael Maeder from 01 April 2010 in our Mumbai office as a Managing Director for India. Mr. Maeder has a very strong and consistent tourism career. He is the head of the Switzerland Travel Centre in London – a subsidiary of Swiss Federal Railways and Switzerland Tourism.
What is the average length of stay recommended for the first time traveller from India to Switzerland and what range of experiences can one expect during their stay?
All travellers should spend at least one week in Switzerland to even begin experiencing its uniqueness and beauty. Of course, Switzerland is a very small country but its variety and diversity is unique. If you want to have a firsthand impression of the country – of the people, of the cities, of the activities and of the international events – one should definitely stay a minimum of one week!
How high is the frequency of repeat visitor traffic to Switzerland?
This really depends on the type of traveller and the experiences they are looking for. For example, I was in Zermatt during Christmas and I met guests who were the fourth generation visitors to the same deluxe hotel. I think no further comment is needed.
Of course, guests from overseas want to spend their vacations in different exotic destinations every year. But we do realize that we have repeat guests from all over the world. This is the magic of Switzerland: once you are here, you fall in love and you have to come back.
Which interesting regions would you recommend that will encourage visitors to increase the number of overnight stays in Switzerland?
We have regions and cities which are very well introduced to the Indian market since a long time, such as Lucerne, Titlis, Zurich, Interlaken, Bernese Oberland and Geneva. Of course we are working every year to bring more attractive destinations and cities to the Indian market. The city of Basel with the highest density of Indian restaurants as well as a large Indian community and the region of Ticino in southern Switzerland with its palms, small picturesque cities, moderate climate and the Italian way of life are just two examples. We are working on it everyday and I am certain that we still have a few aces in our hands for the near future.
Switzerland is known for its mountains, lakes and natural beauty and is a multi-cultural nation with various influences due to its diversity. What are your recommendations in terms of off-beat experiences that one can enjoy in Switzerland?
One of my favourite regions is the above-mentioned region of Ticino. I like the relaxed mentality and the great food. I like to walk and hike with absolutely no stress. Walking in this region is very relaxing and it always inspires me for marketing solutions or for new creative ideas.
Please do not think that we have snow everywhere during the year. You can always take your bathing suit and swim in one of our rivers or lakes. This is a very unique experience: swimming in one of our famous cities. My kids love it.
You can also explore the fabulous shopping opportunities. I love to shop in our cities because our cities are our main shopping malls. All top brands and even the handcrafted traditional items are within walking distance of each other. You will find me in the same stores as any other Swiss shopper or guest from abroad.
Adventure and student travel are new emerging markets. According to you, what are areas which can be offered to special interest groups of adventure and student travellers?
Switzerland has a very long tradition of student travel. Students come to study languages, economics, travel, tourism, hospitality or just for summer school. Of course, many more young people come to discover our nature. Cycling, biking, walking and hiking is very popular. You find many young people on our cycling and walking networks. Switzerland has many good offers for young people in low cost accommodation such as youth hostels and backpacker hotels as well as a new marketing offensive with the typical Swiss hotels.
What are the various innovative MICE opportunities in Switzerland for companies planning an incentive or a conference?
In brief, the answer would be mountains, mountains and mountains! The many peaks of Switzerland have numerous offers for MICE groups. Not only are the mountain railway capacities improved almost every year, but so are the meeting facilities and special event attractions on top of mountains.
A few examples of MICE opportunities would be the roller coaster at Glacier 3000 in Les Diablerets, the Bollywood restaurant at Jungfrau at 3545 above sea level, the Dragons of Mount Pilatus near Lucerne and the “Indian Mountain” experience on Mount Titlis with a full Indian programme including Indian food and an Indian discotheque.
As Switzerland is closely associated with Bollywood, what are the new initiatives you plan to introduce in the current year to encourage Indian visitors?
As we experienced stagnancy in our overnight statistics, we have to lengthen our tour operator programmes. Fortunately, some very creative Swiss people met some very creative Indian people and the result was the new “Enchanted Journey” tour of Switzerland. This joint venture pools the Brand Institute Berne, SOTC, Switzerland Tourism and the renowned Yash Chopra with his film production company, Yash Raj Films (YRF). The goal is to bring Indian guests very close to the original scenes and locations where
Bollywood and especially YRF movies were shot in Switzerland. Switzerland Tourism is very pleased to be a branding and communication partner. We expect primarily to achieve almost 20000 additional overnights this year. But of course, we also expect that the travellers will be future tourism ambassadors for Switzerland.
Switzerland is known for its efficient public transport system. Which experiences do you recommend that will enable the Indian visitor to take back interesting memories of your country whilst experiencing the various transport systems and themed routes?
Firstly, you need to have a Swiss Pass of 4, 8, 15 days or more. With this Pass you can explore our public transport system including even the boats, streetcars and buses. So when you arrive at Zurich Airport, your train experience starts immediately. This is very unique amongst most destinations!
Secondly, of course, you should experience one of the famous Swiss mountain railways. The best way to do this is to consult the weather report, decide on which mountain experience would suit you and then have the best time of your life. Most cable cars are available with a discount if you have a Swiss Pass – some even with a 50% reduction so do check at the ticket counter.
Having signed the Schengen Agreement, how does this augur well for Indian visitors to Switzerland?
The benefits of the Schengen Agreement include one visa for all member nations. This means free travel between the Schengen countries. Switzerland is now very closely connected to the European metropolises and airport hubs such as Paris, Frankfurt and Milan.
Lastly, what is your message to readers?
I wish all readers a fantastic holiday where ever you may travel. To my travel colleagues throughout the world, I wish many old and new customers, many sales and of course, many sales to Switzerland – my home and my country. We look forward to seeing you soon.