Breathing a cool breath of respite for the scorching summer months, Switzerland is proving its appeal to MENA visitors, as TTG investigates.
Switzerland is a destination that is growing in popularity within the MENA region. Visitors appear attracted to the juxtaposition of its picturesque natural and cultural offerings; a fresh breath of contrast from the hotter climate of the Middle East, especially in the peak of summer. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the most popular time of year for MENA travellers to Switzerland is at the height of summer, as noticed by head of public relations, Engadin and St. Moritz Tourist Board, Sara Roloff: “The most popular time to visit Switzerland, and our region, St. Moritz, appears to be during the summertime between June and September. This allows visitors the chance to escape from the summer heat in the Middle East and enjoy a refreshing summer in the Alps.”
Indeed, revitalisation and break are elements which appear to attract the MENA traveller to the country, with Switzerland’s selling factors being its nature, mountains, family-friendliness, peace and hospitable environments.
“Clients from the Middle East are looking for places which are located within the countryside, but still not too far from the city,” said director of sales and marketing, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz AG, Kathrin Boerger-Bechtold, speaking exclusively to TTG.
“Locations such as Bad Ragaz fit this well; being only an hour away from cities such as Zurich, but still well within the picturesque countryside, preferably surrounded by the Swiss Alps. Another trend we are witnessing is that MENA clients are looking for secure and safe places, but also to be able to combine holidays with the family, as well as to enjoy medical and spa treatments.”
“MENA clients are looking for secure and safe places, but also to be able to combine holidays with the family.”
In order to meet this trend, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz has added several new disciplines to its Olympic Health Centre, as well as reinvented The Spa concept with its 12,800m² thermal spa to fully focus on the natural hot thermal waters of the resort’s own spring.
“Our unique medical offerings with dedicated centres for weight loss, diabetes, dental care, medical skin care, rehabilitation and several other disciplines are always of high interest from our MENA guests. In fact, our resort is also considered to be one of the best spa resorts in Europe,” added Boerger-Bechtold.
A true sense of ultimate care and hospitality has been a resounding attraction to prospective travellers from the Middle East, who seek alternative forms of luxury. In fact, one could say that it is the prestige of the destination that lures the traveller to Switzerland.
One such destination from within the country is Geneva, as highlighted by market manager – leisure marketing department, Geneva Tourism & Convention Bureau, Nico Garcia Hofer, who told TTG: “TATOs should sell Geneva as a destination because of the quality their clients will receive. Geneva has a great reputation, and has been an ‘in’ destination for decades. We are equipped to welcome Arab visitors to Geneva and it is a prestige for them to say, ‘I was in Geneva’.”
Opportunities and connections
Status and a strong standing are, in fact, essential elements throughout the business world. Coupled with its world famous natural endowments, Switzerland and its major cities are important business hubs for the international business traveller, and provide ample opportunities for this particular segment. Added to this is the ease of access from the Middle East, with Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Oman Air, Saudia and Qatar Airlines all servicing the country. Yet director IMEA, Switzerland Tourism, Jörg Krebs revealed to TTG that even these can be improved upon.
“We do have direct flights to Zurich and Geneva from destinations in the Middle East, such as the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia,” said Krebs. “Of course, we would need more frequent connections, especially to and from Saudi Arabia. This all depends on a number of factors, including aircraft resources, slot availabilities, market volume and scheduling, to name but a few.”
Despite this room for improvement, the availability and connectivity of Switzerland as a European hub is still a major selling factor. Director of communications, Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, Eva-Maria Panzer explained to TTG: “Switzerland and its key cities such as Geneva, Zurich and Basel, due to their location in the heart of Europe, are getting more important as hubs for business and leisure.”
It is this close proximity to other European cities that makes the country so attractive, as highlighted by country manager – GCC, Ticino Tourism, Michel Vavadini, who told TTG: “Being in the heart of Europe, Switzerland is easily accessible and very well connected to the main European cities and destinations, such as Paris and Rome.”
An industry professional could not deny the impact the current economic climate has had on European destinations, but a voice of prosperity and potential resounds from within Switzerland, as highlighted by vice president, sales and marketing, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, Herta Hieslmair.
“The difficult Euro currency situation shows an impact on the travel business from European countries into Switzerland, but the business travel and congress business segment are not affected, and remain a strong focus for Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts,” Hieslmair told TTG.
“In fact, our international sales office has just conducted a roadshow to Moscow, Baku and Kazan with several of our hotel delegates attending. The idea is to further strengthen our relationship with travel agents, who handle all segments including MICE. We see an increasing interest in our hotels from those markets.”
Tailored offerings for MENA visitors
Due to the cultural and religious differences between Switzerland and the Middle Eastern countries, a number of properties and destinations have taken it upon themselves to better understand and cater towards this specialist market, which many recognise as having great potential. It is through understanding and an excelled level of service that they hope to attract travellers from the Middle East, ensuring their visit to Switzerland is encompassed with true Swiss hospitality.
With regards to this synergy, director of communications, Victoria-Jungrau Collection, Ina Bauspeiss highlighted the importance of catering services towards the Middle East market to TTG: “The Middle East is a very important and emerging market for us. We are doing our utmost to make these guests feel at home, and we train our staff to meet their expectations and fulfil their specific wishes.”
Specifically referring to the touches which matter, Bauspeiss stated: “In all our four hotels we have offers and services adjusted to the Arabic guests needs. We have separate food menus for Arabic guests and are happy to remove any alcoholic drinks from the mini bar prior to arrival if requested.
“At the Eden au Lac in Zurich and the Palace Hotel in Lucerne we have installed little wooden arrows in the drawer of the nightstand which shows where Mecca is located. At our flagship hotel, the Victoria-Jungrau Grand Hotel & Spa, we even offer prayer rugs for rent which have an integrated compass. This hotel has another special service for Arabic women: during their main travel time, we offer two times a week an evening when the spacious pool area is dedicated to ladies only.”
Indeed, the importance of the MENA market to Swiss destinations is mirrored by many within the country, as highlighted by Roloff, who stated: “For us, the Middle East is a relatively new market with huge potential. We created a special brochure for the market in Arabic, and besides our cooperation with Switzerland Tourism, we are planning several special promotions. We are working hard with the brand, St. Moritz, within the luxury segment, and offering scintillating packages.
“A range of our hotels from three- to five-star are offering halal food, great SPAs, children’s programmes, butler and concierge services, disposal of numerous rooms with connecting doors and the special conventions during Ramadan are respected.”