Barbra Steuri-Albrecht is Director of the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau (SCIB). She explains what makes the country such a great meeting destination and the benefits planners and delegates can derive from holding an event in Switzerland.
Can you introduce yourself for those who don’t know you?
I’ve been in charge of marketing Switzerland as a meetings and incentive destination since March 1999. We’re part of Switzerland Tourism, and I’m also a member of the Switzerland Tourism management board.
I have a degree from the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. This was the world’s first hotel management school, founded more than 120 years ago, and it offers a fine grounding in every aspect of the hospitality industry. Before joining Switzerland Tourism, I held a variety of marketing and sales positions in the international hotel industry in the UK, North America and Switzerland – and also for the destination of Montreux-Vevey.
I’m an active member of ICCA and MPI, and have won several awards within the international meetings industry.
According to you, what is the perception of Switzerland among meeting planners? Is it true to reality?
Switzerland works! You can rely on Switzerland. The country has a well-earned reputation for perfectionism and professionalism, so planners know that events will run smoothly.
It’s also one of the most attractive travel destinations, repeatedly topping international rankings – one of the reasons why organisers can count on high levels of attendance.
And yes, this image is true to reality. Switzerland is a premium destination that offers the ideal setting for smaller, high-quality meetings and incentives – particularly for companies that have an affinity to Switzerland and have the necessary budget.
What do you say to those who claim “Switzerland is too expensive for meetings”?
Switzerland is definitely not a cheap destination, and it’s not the perfect match for all meetings. But when you evaluate all the pros and cons, you might be surprised at the good overall value you get.
For example, we continuously have record attendance at business events taking place in Switzerland; by choosing our country, corporate meeting planners can be confident they will achieve their targets. They know that they can rely on their Swiss partners, and that participants will appreciate the choice of top destination.
I’ll give you a practical example, too. Switzerland’s compact size and the country’s superb transport system mean that planners and participants can make the best possible use of time available. Transfers from the main airports to city centres take about ten minutes; within the cities, key venues are usually within walking distance.
The transport system is the world’s densest, reaching to every corner of the country. Services are fast, punctual and reliable. For longer journeys, you can charter a dedicated railway carriage for a presentation or working lunch, all the way from the airport to your final destination. Every minute of the event works towards its success.
What are Switzerland’s assets as a meetings and incentives destination?
For meetings, one of the great assets is the concentration of expertise within Switzerland that meeting planners can draw on. Switzerland is a pioneer in many fields from the life sciences and IT to nuclear research and clean technology; it is also home to a dense concentration of international organisations, including the headquarters of many UN agencies.
Planners can invite experts from these fields to give talks and share the latest know-how, and can also organise site visits. There are world-class institutions throughout the country; in fact it’s Switzerland’s long-standing emphasis on education and research that has led the country to top international rankings in innovation, competitiveness, environmental standards and other fields year after year.
Best of all, this same emphasis on quality applies throughout the meetings industry, too. Planners will find their local partners are multilingual, well-travelled and committed to the highest standards.
Another asset is the inspiring setting. Even in the cities, participants enjoy a beautiful natural backdrop to their event. The more secluded locations, meanwhile, guarantee that participants focus 100% on the task in hand; pristine nature encourages fresh thinking.
For incentive organisers, Switzerland offers a prestige destination that guarantees the highest level of motivation. Because of the country’s compactness, groups can pack in a tremendous amount – you can go from glaciers to palm-lined lakeshores in a couple of hours. The choice of team-building and other group activities is endless.
Plus we have a tremendous variety of spectacular locations for award ceremonies, gala dinners and product launches – everywhere from mountaintops to medieval castles. You can even hire a whole historic village to host an unforgettable celebration!
No other country in the world offers such a wide choice of top meeting venues in such a compact area with such an extraordinary variety of landscapes as a backdrop. Add Switzerland’s reliability, commitment to quality and corporate social responsibility and the high level of safety and security, and I believe you have a destination that’s in a class of its own.
Tell us about your personal favourites of Switzerland as a meeting destination?
I particularly appreciate Switzerland’s combination of commitment to innovation and attachment to living traditions. We have four national languages, four cultures and a tremendous variety of local customs that Swiss people cherish – and which planners can build into events.
I’m also delighted that visitors can experience so much in a short time, thanks to the country’s compact size. And it’s so easy to move around: the whole transport system runs like clockwork, with timetables for trains, buses, boats and cable cars all interconnecting.
Planners can get an idea of the vast choice on offer, and also the ease of putting together a tailored programme, with our free online Meeting Planner (www.MySwitzerland.com/meetings). With just a few clicks you can create a package including venues, social programmes, transfers and reference rates. You’ll instantly receive a professional-looking proposal that you can share with colleagues or clients via a link or as a PDF.
At the same time, you can send a request for a free quote or for free support to SCIB. We have dedicated staff at offices throughout the world, who will be delighted to provide tailored advice. In Belgium, for example, Myriam Winnepenninckx is an expert on every aspect of the Swiss MICE scene.
Where do you see Switzerland a decade from now? Do you have some kind of strategic long-term plan?
Switzerland will continue its focus on innovation, investing for the long term with an emphasis on sustainability. This summer, for example, Switzerland will open the world’s longest railway tunnel: 57 km long, accommodating trains travelling up to 250 km/h, it’s Europe’s biggest environmental project to date and just one example of Switzerland’s commitment to an eco-friendly future.
Attractive new venues are opening all the time, adding fresh options for planners. The Chaplin’s World museum and the FIFA World Football Museum both open their doors in early 2016, while the next couple of years see the inauguration of venues including the Schindler lift visitor centre and the 900-delegate Bürgenstock Resort near Lucerne.
Strategically, our goal is to expand in Asia and develop new markets with potential. Switzerland is a dream destination in Asia; for meetings and conferences targeting delegates from Asia, this makes for record attendance, while for incentives it promises top motivation for sales forces.
Overall, Switzerland is determined to remain at the top of the game. The country will maintain its commitment to quality, sustainability and corporate social responsibility, promising planners outstanding facilities, full compliance, seamlessly run events – and satisfied clients every time.
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