Race to Switzerland continues
Last month, Switzerland Tourism hosted its popular travel-trade event – Race to Switzerland – at the W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island, and from what TTN has just learned: the race to Switzerland continues, especially from the UAE, as travellers perform even better than pre-pandemic 2019 figures.
This was the fourth edition of the fun, educational event, where Swiss partners were specially flown in to engage with a group of regional travel agents over interactive games and give away some fabulous prizes.
Ahead of the event, we spoke to Matthias Albrecht, Director GCC for Switzerland Tourism. “With the last Race to Switzerland in February 2020, we received a lot of enquiries about the return of the event post pandemic. Suffice to say, we have 80 agents participating with a very low no-show rate. We basically spend the whole day together, party in the evening and give away loads of prizes including a trip to Switzerland for the group with the most points. This year, we have additional giveaways.”
We have 80 agents participating with a very low no-show rate. We basically spend the whole day together, party in the evening and give away loads of prizes, including a trip to Switzerland for the group with the most points
– Matthias Albrecht
To the 80 regional agents and advisors in the audience, Albrecht said, “I know your customers mainly travel in summer and winter is a bit untapped here in the UAE – it’s growing of course but it’s not the same size as summer. I ask you to help us to change this and make Swiss winters even more popular here in the region.
“Ensuring that future generations can also enjoy Switzerland and our globe is our duty and in Switzerland we try to go a step further. We try to become the world’s most sustainable destination. We call this programme Swisstainable.
The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, which comes under the umbrella of Swisstainable, is a wonderful way to discover the country, Albrecht says. “It connects the best of the best attractions in the country and the different regions represented at the Race to Switzerland event are all accessible along the Grand Train Tour.”
Partners at the event included Geneva, Interlaken region, Lucerne, Mount Pilatus, Andermatt, Mount Titlis, Zurich, Swiss Travel System, St Moritz, Ticino and Lugano, SWISS International Airlines.
Albrecht joined the GCC office some 10 years ago – the Race To Switzerland was conceived during his tenure and to date remains one of the most innovative engagements for the travel trade by any national tourism organisation in the region.
“It was a really nice journey these 10 years – we were growing all the time. When I first joined, I started focusing on promoting winter in Switzerland, and today when we compare numbers, especially the winter figures, we are much better.
“The growth hasn’t come overnight. We participated in some grassroots projects such as sponsoring the cooperation of the UAE skiers official racing in Ski Dubai – these skiers are now going to ski camps in Switzerland.”
Before Albrecht joined the UAE office, tourism boards were promoting themselves individually in a more traditional, single-country profile. The Discover Europe Travel Summit is an event that can be credited to his persistence and convincing of external stakeholders as well as internal partners. “All of us organised Discover Europe together, of course, but in the beginning, Switzerland has been the biggest partner and spent the most money on it. So, we always had a leading function there.”
Albrecht’s biggest success story however is the strong recovery Switzerland experienced in the weeks after Corona. “Switzerland had been very fast in communicating to our partners and key clients: we had been communicating clearly as well compared to other countries,” Albrecht reminisces.
Switzerland opened its borders on June 28 in 2021 and in July 2021 there were already more UAE nationals in Switzerland, than there were in 2019. The first month they could travel again, they headed straight to Switzerland, he recalls. “This is partly because we were very active, very aggressive. There are, of course, different factors at play that decide where a traveller is headed and but I can confidently say that our team had a big influence on the traveller decision to choose us. We had a strong comeback because we never stopped sales calls. When we couldn’t visit agencies, we visited in cafes. My colleague Tawfik Melli was sometimes having 10 coffees a day!”
Albrecht is now looking forward to working for Switzerland Tourism in the Nordic countries.
Switzerland Tourism’s next major interaction with the trade will be at the Discover Europe Travel Summit taking place from April 28 to May 1, alongside Austria, Germany and Ireland.
Right after the summit, Switzerland will also be participating at the Arabian Travel Market this year, not with Swiss partners (who will have had their fill of meetings with the regional trade at the summit, Albrecht tells us) but with key messages and branding, with a focus on public transport.
“A certain tennis superstar is preparing to experience Switzerland through the Grand Train Tour this year,” Albrecht hints.