Category Archives: Switzerland

Thoughts on the 2010 FIFA World Cup: H.E. Peter E. Specker, Consul General of Switzerland

What is your message to the football team and what are your views on South Africa hosting the FIFA World Cup?

My message to the team is to show the best of our football and show that you are  fair players.

It is a challenge, a chance and a just reward for South Africa for her achievements in many sectors. Go RSA, go for the Cup and bring your joy to the world!

How far do you think your team will advance?

Second Round.

Who according to you are the top 3 favourite teams to win the FIFA World Cup in South Africa?

Spain, England, Germany.

Who is your  favourite to win the “Golden Boot” award?

A South American player.

Interview with Jean Philippe Benoit, General Manager (India and Southwest Asia) for Swiss International Airlines

Jean Philippe Benoit has been the General Manager of SWISS for the past 2 years and here he shares his views why SWISS International Air Lines should be your preferred choice for travel to Europe.

What have been the achievements of SWISS in 2009 regarding India and what are the likely routes and frequencies that you plan to introduce in 2010?

An integral part of the airline’s global fleet renewal program was the introduction of the brand-new Airbus A330-300 to serve our 2 Indian routes, Zurich-Delhi and Zurich-Mumbai. This took place in autumn 2009, as per plan. One can talk of a fundamental move, with benefits for all stakeholders in a win-win-win situation: our customers enjoying substantially enhanced levels of comfort, improved economics for SWISS thanks to aircraft of the newest technology and exemplary fuel efficiency and, as a natural consequence, positive impact for the environment. Those are just core elements; numerous others would take more than these columns to enumerate and describe.

Strictly from the customer perspective, we saw it as important not to limit ourselves to come up with a state-of-the-art new business class, but to revisit all cabins with a fresh and modern approach. Hence the rethinking and setting of new quality standards for each passenger category of service: First, Business and Economy. From an overall perspective, one can talk of a quantum leap in terms of passenger comfort. By the way, this entire process was not limited to laboratory research and statistical evidence, but accompanied A to Z by a range of customer panels. Customer satisfaction was key to the project, and customer involvement came out as a natural. As an outcome, I must tell you that customer satisfaction and response has been overwhelmingly positive on our Indian routes.

You have been in India for 7 years. How has SWISS evolved during your tenure and what were the challenges faced by you?

We served India, an identified important market, since the beginning of the company’s existence, 7 years back. Tangible proof of our commitment to the Indian market: even during the recent crisis of 2009 we continued to serve both our Indian destinations, Delhi and Mumbai. This consistency, by the way, should come our way at the time of recovery of the economy, the first signs of which we seem to see now. We are certainly well positioned as an actor of the improved trend.

Take us through the products offered on SWISS for the leisure and corporate traveller and which are the market segments that SWISS plans to target for the coming year?

Mono-culture was never our credo. SWISS is a company wanting to serve all customer segments. Though seasonality, origins of traffic, purpose of travel inevitably forces one to set priorities, segregating as such is not our idea of a modern business approach. To the contrary, we aim at standing for each and everyone, the opulent as well as the budget traveller, whatever the reason of the journey, albeit with a red thread: care and quality must be built-in in your product and service chain irrespective of the class you choose to fly in. Our focus remains unaltered: that of a healthy balance combining all traffic types, prioritizing destination Switzerland and surrounding areas and, by extension Europe, our natural playground. Going this way enables us best to take advantage of our prime geographical location at the centre of Europe. Essential is a well-coordinated strategy with one’s home airport, in our case Zurich. This well-managed, high-quality infrastructure of human dimension magnificently supports our policy for individual care and easy connections. Zurich is probably one of the easiest and most agreeable points to enter the Schengen area (of which Switzerland is a member). All in all, as SWISS, we want to keep the pleasure of travelling intact, by delivering quality all along the service chain, by keeping the human touch to our endeavours, by putting the passenger’s convenience at the centre of our preoccupations.

Which were the new products launched by SWISS during the last quarter of 2009 and what can one expect from SWISS in terms of new aircraft, routes, culinary experiences and service on flying with SWISS?

Periodical frequencies will be added, such as a 6th to the Delhi flights this winter, or also a 6th to Mumbai as of June, thereby gradually filling a few loopholes still remaining. As far as culinary experiences, the cycles featuring various regional cuisines of Switzerland, in cooperation with reputed restaurants and chefs in all corners of the country, will be continued in 2010, once again reflecting customer acclaim. Product novelties otherwise are announced when introduced. What I can tell you is that we have no intention to rest on our laurels.

What are the advantages or USP of SWISS when flying…

a) in Switzerland

b) across Europe

c) across the Atlantic and onwards to North America

Flying to and from our home-country, Switzerland, is of course our specialty, so-to-say our basics. Next to promoting our own air services, co-promoting the country as a destination is the object of our particular care, year-in and year-out. This pleasant task, primarily incumbent to the tourist board, Switzerland Tourism, is shared in fact by many actors, down-stream with a large range of players including resorts, mountain railways, hotels and retailers, and up-stream with the distribution system such as tour-operators and agents selling Switzerland in the Indian market. The national airline traditionally plays a pivotal role in all such activities, and SWISS takes its responsibility seriously. The interests are common, all the more is the pleasure shared.

Timings of flights will not be modified; this is a request which emanates from our customers, time and again. On the other hand, what we will do is enrich the pallet of European connections, particularly east-bound on the way back to Mumbai. Let us take Barcelona as a concrete example: this destination with year-on-year increasing demand will receive a new frequency to and from Zurich as of February, and perfectly connect with our Mumbai flights. Other important points, both in the South and in the North of Europe will follow suit. Quality has many sides; the quality of a schedule, or punctuality, or service reliability is not often spoken of, yet they have become important components in travel comfort, components the discerning traveler attaches importance on, and increasingly a decision purchase factor.

What benefits does a STAR Alliance Frequent Flyer get whilst flying SWISS or any of your partner airlines?

Multiple are the benefits. STAR Alliance Network is unparalleled, and so is the choice of the customer in the schedule options. Then of course there are all the fringe benefits such as Frequent Flyer Programme tie-ups, airport lounge accesses, round-the-world fares and airport terminal sharing. The belonging of SWISS in the Lufthansa Group must also be mentioned, with yet more synergies exploited such as savings through economies of scale, joint procurement of various goods and services, joint development of software packages and much more – all of which eventually comes to the benefit our customers. This is the way it should be, and this is the way it is.

You have completed over 36 years in the airline industry. What are the major changes that you have seen in the aviation industry over the last 3 decades and what are the challenges ahead?

Please do not mention those 36 years, underlining the age of my arteries – though I would completely object to any “old thinking” syndrome. Enough young and brilliant colleagues are around me in the company and in this country to make sure I do not get a chance at laying back and relaxing. Still, to answer your question: 36 years of perpetual changes – primarily of technological nature thanks to the internet revolution and the new communication systems. Then the airlines fare structures and the revenue management systems (where I started my career) have progressed to a speed and amplitude unthinkable only 10 years ago, pushed by market liberalization. There has also been a change in the social and consumer habits of customers that triggered the periodical re-thinking of the offers, departing from the one-time elite product for a privileged few to now a much wider base of customers whose demands are different, however no less exacting. But in the end, we still run for the same: full cabins at good yields at all times.

As per your experience what should a leisure and business passenger look for whilst selecting a short-haul and a long-haul flight?

Many criteria could be mentioned to answer your question. Let me just say that passengers today know exactly what they want. With short-haul flights, schedule attractiveness and frequency, punctuality, speedy ground processes all belong to the essentials, in particular to the frequent traveller on a professional trip. Service on board, F&B or amenities, though surely appreciated, are not much of a decision factor anymore. With long-haul sectors, on the other hand, good service and comfort levels on board get relatively high importance, whatever the purpose of travel. Seating comfort or a good entertainment system both play a larger role, naturally so bearing in mind the time spent in the cabin. That safety and security is basics to everything and that the price element is a decisive purchasing factor for the vast majority of travellers, including the corporate one, is a given.

During these years you would have travelled extensively within India and Switzerland. Which are your favorite cities or regions in each of these countries?

Extensively? Do you know how big and varied your fascinating country is? I have hardly seen maybe a twentieth or a fiftieth of what I desire to see, so please come in 10 years or so and ask again the same question. Reply guaranteed.

Lastly, your message to readers and why should SWISS be their preferred carrier choice in 2010 for their European or American travel?

We want you to be our customers; we will strive to merit your patronage.  Thanks to Opportunities Today for your tour d’horizon through comprehensive questions.

Interview with Joerg P. Krebs, Director of Switzerland Tourism for Gulf Countries, Russia, Nordic Countries, the Czech Republic, Poland and India

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.